One of the core ideas in free market economics is that businesses succeed when they deliver a better product or service than their competition. OK, fine. So then the question becomes: Who's your competition?
Newspapers have traditionally thought of their competition as other newspapers. Maybe also TV news. But essentially, other purveyors of news. Because, after all, everyone reads or watches the news. So you'll get the most readers if you have the best news. Right?
Newspapers' competition today is not other news organizations. It's anything else someone might do with their free time, other than reading the news. YouTube, MySpace, blogs, Epicurious, World of Warcraft, MarketWatch.com, Second Life, and so on.
Staying on top of the news is no longer a priority for many Americans. It's possible it never was. It's possible many people read the newspaper for other reasons: Habit, entertainment, the desire to feel connected to other human beings, the desire to feel a part of a community.
Let's take those last three for a moment: entertainment, the desire to feel connected, the desire to feel part of a community. Today, thanks to the Internet and other forms of digital entertainment, it's possible to satisfy those needs without ever touching a newspaper or any other news entity.
So as the news business tries to find its way forward, as it tries to preserve and grow its audience, it needs to be asking itself not just: How can we deliver the best possible news, better than anyone else who might be delivering news? But: How can we deliver an experience so great that the average person will choose spend time with us, rather than doodling around on Facebook, trying to up their score on "Madden NFL," or catching up on old episodes of "Desperate Housewives."
It's an odd thought, of course. And by no means am I suggesting that newspapers have to develop Desperate Housewives-type serials in order to attract readers. Instead, the idea is this: Newspapers have to ask themselves: How can we make the experience of reading the news as enjoyable as catching up on an old episode of DH. Or playing Madden NFL. Or updating your profile on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of Auburnxc. Creative Commons license.