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The continuing saga of print v. web

Posted Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at 12:56 PM

On Friday, Jan. 14, Costra Nostra posted this comment on The Marshall Democrat-News website:

"The online version of the Democrat News has much less content available than your print version, obviously so as to get readers to pay for your printed content. However, online readers are bombarded with just as many, if not more ads flashing in our faces from the minute we step onto the site. One would believe that the paper would be making just as much if not more revenue from the online advertising as the print version, yet we are short-changed on content daily and when someone complains they are told to subscribe to the pay edition to get everything.

Cosa Nostra (and everybody else who's wondering about this issue), I'd like to address this issue, but this is my personal opinion based on my experience as editor. This is a business question and I don't have responsibility for or authority to represent the organization on this issue. So please take what I have to say as just that -- my view -- and not a statement on behalf of the company.

The basic principle is simple: It takes money to produce good content. Businesses have to make enough money to pay for the labor and equipment required to create the product -- in this case news and features.

Finding the right balance between online and print content to generate enough revenue in either medium -- that's more complex and less certain.

In the current configuration, our website and newspaper each have features particular to the medium. Content gets delivered faster and more frequently online, and we can offer video and a much greater quantity of photos. I don't think website readers are getting "short-changed" (especially since the product they get is free!) but they get a somewhat different product.

The paper includes content not posted online because there needs to be a reason for people to subscribe. Otherwise, we lose an important revenue source. And we still have quite a few readers who depend on the print version, either because they don't have or aren't comfortable with computers, or because they simply prefer print. So for the foreseeable future, we'll have to continue offering content in both venues, with each product designed to meet the needs of its readers and contribute to the bottom line.

During the discussion on the website, Smokin' Cheetah mentioned another option: The e-edition, which includes all the content from the print edition but at a reduced cost and with the convenience (fast access, searchability) of the web.

See www.marshallnews.com/forms/subscribe if you'd like to give it a try.

I can tell you that we are open to ideas about how to adapt to the new world created by the internet. That is a continual challenge, and one for which there is no clear roadmap. Nationwide, news organizations large and small have tried a variety of approaches. Some newspapers have tried charging for online content. Some have not. Some have switched entirely from print to web. Some use both. Some businesses have failed. Some are doing well. Most are surviving in difficult circumstances.

If you have suggestions about how we could better provide content and make a living doing it, you'll find us an eager audience!

One thing I'm sure of -- we're acutely aware of the challenges we face in adapting an old business to a new world. A few months ago I posted one of my favorite quotes on my office door:

"Many areas of endeavor in America pressured by technological change have already had to decide what business they were really in, and those making the narrow choice have usually not fared well. The railroads had to decide whether they were in the transportation business or the railroad business; they chose the latter and failed. Newspapers had to decide if they were in the information business or only the newspaper business; most who chose the newspaper business are no longer in it."

--Richard Lanham

Even with Lanham's point in mind, the transition is not always smooth or easy. Check out this article about the problems the New York Times has faced: Newspaper Online vs. Print Ad Revenue: The 10% Problem. Readership moves online fast, but revenue comes primarily from print. The article was written in 2007, but I'm not sure things have changed dramatically in that regard.

We're in the news business, not the newspaper business. We'll use paper, electrons and whatever tools are yet to be invented to continue to serve our readers.

Related stories:
Tribune to start charging for online access Dec. 1:
www.columbiatribune.com/news/2010/nov/16...
The Times to Charge for Frequent Access to Its Web Site:
www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/business/medi...


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Who's newspaper is it?

-- Posted by red dog on Tue, Jan 25, 2011, at 8:59 PM

Eric I believe that you are an intelligent person, and hope that management of your company listens to you. They would profit from it.

You are hands down better than any editor there when I lived there.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Tue, Jan 25, 2011, at 11:40 PM

Cosa Nostra,

Can you please explain to where it makes logical sence how you are being short changed from a FREE product other than you have to read it youself or type a few key strokes yourself it just don't make any sence to me.

-- Posted by midniterebel on Wed, Jan 26, 2011, at 8:19 AM

I am only responding to this blog bc I am a part of the community who takes part in both versions of the paper. my job and personal duties often draw me away from any and all technology.

my laptop doesn`t fold up and fit in a back pocket nearly as well as the MDN paper edition. it survives a fall from the truck much better aswell.

-- Posted by BigFatGuy on Wed, Jan 26, 2011, at 3:00 PM

Cosa Nostra, you and I do not agree on much and we don't agree now. Unless you are nearby and have visited the MDN office, you may not know that the staff is very small. Other than Eric, there are two full-time reporters. Now and then, there is an intern, and occasionally there are others who contribute, like me, on an ad hoc basis. But most of the time, for most purposes, there are three people putting it all together, plus a part-time clerk.

Considering that one of those three people doing the reporting is Eric, it's utterly amazing to me that the day-to-day output is as much as it is. Add in special editions, and there are quite a few of those that you don't see online at all, and it's even more amazing.

Everyone who works at the MDN would all like to do more, of that I am certain, but until there is a way to work 24 hours a day and still be alive at the end of the week, I don't see that happening.

-- Posted by Kathy Fairchild on Wed, Jan 26, 2011, at 8:49 PM

I'm very happy and continue to be impressed with MDN and it's management. I only wish some of the "big city" newspapers where we've lived were as well managed and had an equally high quality of content as my home town's paper, the MDN.

Eric, your comments yet again reflect your maturity, good business instinct and desire to do well for your newspaper.

Nonny

-- Posted by Nonnymus on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 6:56 PM


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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.