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Can the iPad Change the Newspaper Business? March 29, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Dealing with change, Dealing With Competitors, Solving Business Problems.
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Among all the things we ponder about the new iPad, one of the most talk about and debated issues is whether or not an iPad-like device can impact the newspaper business.  My answer, now that we know the capabilities (and that more will be coming soon in terms of software for the iPad), is a resounding ‘YES’.  More than anything, iPad devices will change the economics of the business in a positive way.

We’re so wedded to the printed page that it sounds crazy to suggest that any paper can afford to go totally online with a PAID subscriber base.  But it can be done.

How?  By allowing newspapers to cut costs dramatically.

Let me first explain what I’d do.  First, I’d offer only an online version of the paper and price it competitively.  That means eliminating the printed version, which accounts for a substantial percentage of operational costs.  Second, for subscribers that signed up for extended subscriptions, like 3 to 5-years or more, I’d also offer to sell them the device for a major price reduction.  Yup.  Just give it to them  for far less than if they bought the device from Apple or some other producer.  Or, if they don’t want an iPad, give them a netbook instead.


I thought you’d ask that question.  For one thing, if I can lock a subscriber in for a long term period by enticing them with a device they can use to read the paper and do other things, I’m all for it.  But there’s a far bigger reason for doing this: going online means you’ll take out substantial costs that are currently embedded into your publishing business.  Like printing each daily edition and the total production costs involved in doing that.

If you can take out major costs in your business but still deliver a valuable product everyday (via online instead of printed paper), you can improve your profitability dramatically.

How will subscribers react?

At first, there will be some short term gnashing of teeth and discomfort but only for those who are technologically slow-adapters.  Change has a way of doing that.  However, by reducing your production costs dramatically, you can offer subscribers a better subscription rate to entice them to the online version…or throw in a netbook or an iPad device for subscribers who are willing to lock-in their rate by extending it to 3-5 years.  Think bigger and longer here.

Improve the Subscriber Experience

I’d also make sure that the online version offers the ability to customize it to the readers needs.  You input the content and organize it then let readers determine how they want to see it online.  Wouldn’t be great if I could tag an article or column so that I’d get an RSS feed when new content on that subject is posted again?  Let’s find out how readers like to see and consume their information and re-engineer the online experience for them.  We need to move the online ‘wow’ factor up a few notches here.

Here’s another twist on enhancing the subscriber experience:

Combining the Best of Print/Digital/TV/Radio

If you’re not engaging your reader on a constant basis, then what’s the point?  Instead of having a shelf life of  day, a digitally accessed version of the paper breathes life into the content.  What a platform like an iPad really does is gives newspapers a chance to give local TV and radio a run for their money.  If you can embed an online news channel (via digital video feeds) with a radio platform (like podcasting), with an online print version of your paper, you’ve got the makings of an advertisers dream.

Of course, you see video along with podcasting embedded today with stories.  One of the best-in-class examples of this is the Wall Street Journal Online edition.  Not only that, but they charge for the online version too.  Media-driven tools like the iPad will allow publishers to move deeper into the value they can provide their subscribers.  With a digitally-focused product, publishers will be able to embed other types of media into columns and stories to make them come alive.  Adding additional content like pdf files that provide additional information for the reader who wants more info will be key.

The embedded video is something everyone seems to do these days.  However, what if you created an online, LIVE video webcast…with newsroom that looks the one on TV?  For local news and information, nothing beats my local paper, The Times Herald Record (full disclosure: I write weekly columns for the paper…but that doesn’t make it any less great!).  A live video webcast is the answer for providing real time updates of news events as they happen?  Or live interviews?

The iPad also serves as a way to more effectively repurpose the great content that is created by daily newspapers.  Special online ‘books’ of specific local information can be developed and then accessed by all those paid subscribers.  Normally, after a story or column is printed, it seems lost forever.  Why not look for opportunities to create information books for local and regional issues that can be read on a iPad?  Two issues here: repurposing content for revenue generation and organizing previous content so that it is easily found by subscribers.  How about links to previous related stories?  You could just go on and on.

For those who insist on reading hard copies of stories or want a copy for ‘old time sake’, they can print as many stories as they have paper for.

Say no to page count restrictions!

Today, section editors are restricted to daily page count restrictions.  Let’s unshackle journalism with this old-school financial measurement.  Content to advertising revenues…it’s a good financial measurement but what if you didn’t have the cost of printing paper anymore?  What if your only limitation was server space?  There’s no reason for having page counts  when

How would advertisers react?

Of course, nothing gets done in publishing if we don’t have advertisers.  I’m sure at first, there will be more than a few who will not know what to do or say if they can’t see or touch their ad on anything but printed paper.  However, remember that our goal would be to reduce production costs (no printed paper!) as more than an offset for any temporary reduction in advertising revenues.

If newspapers  stay focused on growing and retaining their subscriber base online by creating great and dynamic content that keeps them engaged on a 24/7 basis, the advertisers will be there.

Making Online Publishing More Effective for Advertiser’s

Think about this.  What if advertisers had their ads place next to topics in the paper directly related to their business?  In addition to random ad placement, advertisers could also get the extra benefit of multiple ads in different sections for one price?   The digital online platform gives advertisers the ability to pay an incremental amount above their 1st ad in order to place their ad in several different sections of the online ‘newspaper’.  In other words, the higher the reader ‘views’ on one section of the paper, the higher the price you pay for your ad to be there or some variation therein.  Special ‘instant coupon’ sections that make it easy for customers to download and print coupons.

My point: focus on building your market share with long term subscribers by creating engaging content that readers want and you needn’t worry about advertisers.  Advertisers will follow their customers.  Keep their customers engaged in your online content either in a PC or an iPad-like device and you’ll win.

Investing in More Journalism

At the end of the day, we want to preserve our heritage of professional journalism.  So let’s take some of the savings from not having to print an hard copy edition and invest in more journalism talent or work to retain the assets we have.  Give journalists the tools like the laptops and video camera’s they’ll need to capture the local news wherever & whenever it happens.

Cutting out the printed edition of a paper is a gut-wrenching experience for sure.  However, with media-centric and consumer friendly tools like the iPad, it’s only a matter of time before printed editions will be just too expensive to  produce. Besides, readers like me, who are loyal and pay the subscription fee aren’t too pleased to see all the freeloaders getting the same content online that we pay for.  I pay for the privilege of getting a printed paper delivered to our door even though I (and those who pay nothing) can get the same content online for free.  Who’s the crazy one here?

No Sales Goodwill Here April 10, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Dealing With Competitors, Keeping Your Customers.
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David DirksThis morning I went to a local printer I use for to a quick print job I needed for a presentation.  I walked in the shop and begin to explain what I have and what needs to be done.  The woman at the counter simply says, ‘we’re closed’ and points to the sign on the outside near the door…yup the sign says you are closed.  However, the lights are on in the shop and the door is open.  Not only that, the sign says they are normally open from 8am to 5pm on Fridays.  How would I know they decided to ‘close’ today?

What’s worse is the part when I ask here if she knows of another printer who could do the job.  She meekly says a name of a office supply store which I won’t name but you wouldn’t have your resume printed there.  It’s not there thing.  No big deal right? Well, except that the store she named wasn’t even close by.  And right next store, in the strip mall next to theirs is a Minuteman Press.

So I’m thinking to myself, you will send me to some schlocky outfit rather than your competitor next door?  Is that the best you can do for me, the customer?  I think not.  So, I took my business over to the Minuteman Press.  He was open and took care of me right way and, pretty much by default, he earned my business today.  By the way, the job I had in hand was worth several hundred dollars.

So, here are a few points worth noting from this sad tale.

  • If you can’t do the job, recommend one of your competitors who can.  This was the ‘moment of truth’ that the first printer flunked with flying colors.  I would have appreciated the close proximity of the press next door and my ability to get the project done today.  I would have felt gratitude to them for helping me find the appropriate printer.  It would have earned them much goodwill.  Instead, it made me mad and bought them no goodwill whatsoever.
  • If you are going to close your store on a normally busy day during your regular business hours, don’t close unless you absolutely have to.  Except for an emergency, your customers are expecting you to be open.

Trust me when I say this:  the first printer didn’t seem to care about my need for immediate, high quality printing.  “We closed”, is the only advice I really got.  Well, keep that up and you will be closed…only permanently.

There.  I feel better now. 🙂

Winning by letting others win December 21, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Achieving goals, Bronder On People, Dealing With Competitors, Fixing performance problems, Power.
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The Big Dogz know that winning is not always getting your way. Sometimes it pays to get the ideas or agendas of others implemented rather than your own. Here are some tips to help you be more effective as a solution leader in your organization:


  • Try meeting with key people before the problem solving session to get some idea of their thoughts. Spend time with them to help them build their case for presentation in the meeting.


  • Be alert for signs of resistance during solution discussion. Tone and non-verbal signals are important. When you see resistance, try to bring it out in the open where you can deal with it. An effective way to get the resistance out in the open is to ask a closed ended question with your assumption. For example, “Are you concerned about the cost of this solution?” They will answer yes or no. If yes, you got it out in the open. If no, follow up with “What is your concern?”


  • Analyze the cost of getting your way. Does your solution help your personal goals versus the goals of the organization? Are you acquiring a reputation as a person who has to win every situation, no mater the importance to you? If the issue is not that important to you, let others take the lead.



  • Ask others, like your manager or a trusted colleague, to provide you feedback on your actions in problem solving sessions. Are you monopolizing the conversation or pushing your agenda? Look to get feedback that you are cooperating and getting others involved.


  • Before you go into a problem solving session, take time to discover the needs and goals of others at the meeting. You will be able to get more support for your idea if you link it to others’ needs. Sometimes the needs of others’ outweigh you personal needs. Keep your options open.



  • While you are presenting your idea, identify areas where you are willing to compromise. This will encourage others to fill in the details of your solution that they support. Ask others what are the no compromise issues about their solutions. Accept these points and offer compromise in other areas if you can.


  • Find a role model. Look for someone who does an effective job of driving solutions and getting everyone to participate. Observe them and experiment with what they do.


The Big Dogz know that winning does not always mean g4tting your way. There are others in the organization who have good ideas. Be the one who gets others to contribute. You will win in the long run.


How to Use the Inc. 500 for Strategic Advantage – 1 August 29, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Dealing With Competitors.
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Every year Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) publishes a list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.  I’m going to put a stake in the ground here and say that it’s probably one of the most valuable databases of information you can find anywhere.  It contains a treasure-trove of information that can provide valuable insights on business strategy and tactics.  Unfortunately, this Inc. special issue probably spends more time on the shelf of most readers before it is quickly sent to the newspaper recycle pile.  For shame.  This is a list of 500 Big Dogz that are in the thick of executing on business strategies that are differentiating them from their baseline competitors. 

First, let’s look at what data is in this Inc. 500 issue.  Inc. has segmented companies in this list into broad but meaningful sectors like media, business services, construction, education, logistics, reatil, transportation, etc.  If you own a business, more than likely you’ll find a sector that covers you business. 

Finding and reviewing your sector is a great place to start with this publication. 

  •  What are some of these high-growth companies in your sector doing strategically and/or tactically to position themselves as high-performers? 
  •  How are they creating differentiation that separates them from the crowd? 
  •  How can you find this kind of information? 

Well, what these Big Dogz are doing is not necessarily going to jump out at you when you review the list.  What they do give you is the CEO’s name and their website address.  At a minimum, it requires a careful and detailed review of their website.  Then, a call to the company if you want to find out more info.  This isn’t as hard as you think.  Most people are far more accessible than most people think.  You’d be surprised how much information you can get if you just pick up the phone and call the CEO directly.  Remember, these aren’t Fortune 500 CEO’s…these are CEO’s who are generally much more accessible.  In most cases, as long as they are not directly competing with you in market, you can usually find someone at the management level who’s willing to brag on their company a bit. 

My point is clear:  these Inc. 500 Big Dogz need to be studied.  Get yourself a copy (if you don’t already have one) while it’s still on the newsstands.  I use mine and keep it well dog-eared as a research tool.   It doesn’t make the recycle pile until the next one comes out.  More on this in my next blog posting.

Check Out the Competition…Always & Often! June 19, 2007

Posted by David Dirks in Dealing With Competitors.
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The Big Dogz spend a lot of money and invest time in understanding just what their competition is doing in their markets.  Products, services, pricing, marketing, sales, and a whole host of key items are studied. 

Is the small business owner any different?  No.  If you think anything else, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to leverage the best competitive ideas into your business.

dirksphoto.jpgSome of the best small business owners I know (i.e. those that own profitable and often growing businesses), spend time in the field understanding what their competitors are doing or not doing.  I know one guy who makes sure that he checks out his competition in any city, state, or country he might be in.  He checks out his competition when he goes on vacation.  Now, he doesn’t over do it, but he always comes back with something that he can use for his business.

How much time to you spend checking out the competition?  Don’t assume that checking them out once or twice a year is enough.  It isn’t.  Do what most of your competitors are NOT doing (trust me, most don’t).  Check out the competition…always and often!