Mike over at TechDirt has a great little post on the newspaper industry and the efforts by a Norwegian newspaper to come to terms with itself in a digital age.
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the state of American newspapers and the constant wailing about the Internet. Some, like the New York Times, have implemented a limited subscription service. The model is sort of like a date that will let you get to third base, but won’t go all the way. They’ll give you enough content to get you interested and make you want to put a ring on their finger by paying for the rest.
The Wall Street Journal has gone a different route. They’re taking the approach that they’ll give you a little bit of editorial content (via OpinionJournal.com), but keep the news for subscribers only. Think of this as the date that gives you a kiss on the cheek and spends the rest of the night telling you what she thinks about people you don’t really care about.
Others, like the Washington Post, have embraced a philosophy of giving you the milk, the cow, and the barn for free. They’re using their proximity to the world of politics – through which all other industries flow – to build an audience for their content, and the world is coming to them. It’s a good model, but one unlikely to work for a newspaper in middle America.
TechDirt hits the nail on the head when he points out the problem newspapers have. They tend to think of themselves as newspapers.
This goes back to the simple fact that newspapers got too focused on thinking they were in the newspaper business, rather than in the business of delivering useful news and information to a community of people in a way that was useful to them, and which brought them together for commerce.
The Internet makes the world, and everything in it, more accessible. The value of news and information operates at an inverse ratio to the number of people who have that information. With Yahoo and Google News giving visitors access to national and even state news via wire services, the value of a local paper will be determined solely by what it can do to differentiate its news. What does a paper bring to the table that I can’t get elsewhere?
When newspapers start thinking about that question, and get away from this archaic idea of the dead tree edition, they may see their profits grow again.