Sunday, December 7, 2008

It's not about finding a new way to pay for the same old thing

On Thursday, I wrote about how the SF Chron's editor is thinking about jacking up the paper's newsstand price in order to cover operating costs. Today, I'm reading a post on about how maybe some newspapers should convert to non-profit status as a means of ensuring their viability.

Come on, people. This is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

The problem is not the business model. It's the product offering. How do we know this? Declining readership.

If readership were staying level--or, better yet, soaring--then you'd know you had the right product on your hands. And in that case, yes, tinkering with the business model would be the right tactic to take to ensure one's survival.

But declining readership tells a different story. It means there are fewer customers out there who want what you're selling. There's not a single business school out there that will teach the principle: "When you have a declining customer base, fiddle with the price structure." Instead, they'll say, "When you have a declining customer base, you have a problem with your product." Solution: Go back to the drawing board and rethink your product.

Journalists and news observers who continue to point to the business model as the source of what ails us are doing this business a disservice. What we need to do is to rethink the newspaper altogether. We need to go back to the drawing board, to develop a real understanding of what our potential customer base (ie: all the potential readers in our communities) want out of a "news" organization--and how they want to receive news--and then come up with a new product offering altogether.

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