The Future of Newspapers

Within a group who work with Intellective Solutions, we have been exchanging emails about the implications of the purchase of the Washington Post and the long term prospects for newspapers. Here is in the thoughtful email shared by SEO expert and Web strategist, Matt Robson on the his view of the future of newspapers and how they will evolve. As many of our folks are dedicated to print, his opinion elicited some lively discussion from within our Intellective Solutions extended team.

"As the younger generation's demographics shift to living in cities, they don't have a front stoop that begs for delivery. We might pick up a paper here and there if we lack a book or device on the train or coffee break, but, it's not a daily appointment with these titles the way the older generation had them. Smart phones with Facebook and twitter nix the desire to have news pushed to us. If we really want news, there is Google news, and any number of blogs.

Amid the debate on the viability of print newspapers, it appears that the only newspapers that offer unique value in paid subscriptions (print or digital) are the generally financial-oriented papers like WSJ, NYT, and FT. 

USA Today, Wash Post and LA Times might be special cases, but, as far as regional papers, they seem to be more about entertaining news stories and local news rather than hard national and international news. All vertical content can be grabbed from other places, or another place that aggregates them. I see far less room for big cities to sustain a variety of titles. They essentially become coupon bundles and headlines to scan on the train or restroom. 

While the New York Post and Newsday might still have a comparative advantage over networked bloggers on covering City Hall, Unions, Municipal finance or local happenings, they aren't better at covering Wall Street, Business, Sports or Entertainment. In these and many other fields, they have no advantage over a group of bloggers who link to one another in their ability to create good content.

I feel the biggest opportunity is printed digests of web-native content, repackaged. One example that features content from just one website is . I see a proliferation of this format that republishes from many sources. This would be like readers digest in a variety of customized bundles such as -  "Tech Bloggers Digest", "NY Sports Digest Daily", "Pop Culture Daily" 

Titles like AM New York, Metro, Village Voice, Politico, The Onion are poised to expand their content and titles and also to be joined by imitators using web-native content to expand their offerings. 

For a sustainable profit model, it is important to supplement standard ads with database-building tactics to enable followup offers and content developed internally or from cross promotions. 

The opportunity to dominate markets in entertainment news, gossip, sports and soft news is enormous.

Who is to stop an enterprising entrepreneur from creating a "Best of Long Island Weekly" free or super-cheap that competes with Newsday? I then see a title like Newsday responding by printing only twice a week, and concentrating more on free web content with direct marketing tie-ins.

Business, Technology and Politics would be the best categories for specialized Weekly and Curated roundup titles using the format of Sports would have to be a daily publication. It would be easy to license content from bloggers and create a title to replace the newspaper as delivery mechanism for those articles.

Newspapers can close their newsrooms and all become platforms for pushing content from other places to their audience.

Print will always be a good way to push content, but, I see it more centered on promoting digital offers and opt-in subscriptions rather than just print display ads. 

"Newspaper" companies will be more like hybrid Direct Marketing list builders, who happen to publish newspapers, reprinted digests, and web materials."

by Matt Robson

SEO Expert, Web Strategist