My reaction, whenever I read stuff like this great piece from Michael Hirschorn, is frustratingly simple.
It’s about trading analog dollars for digital pennies. Or, to put it another way, even if we cut out all the overhead of paper and presses and delivery trucks, we can’t pay our existing writers and editors with only our revenue from online ads.
So what’s my reaction? Up your revenue from online ads.
Maybe my reaction’s not that helpful, or maybe it’s a needed slap in the face. A wake-up call.
Newspapers need to be way more imaginative than starting with the assumption that making “a Web-based strategy profitable” must involve the fearsome numbers we see today. If you don’t like today’s numbers, change them. Newspapers need to think about how they can quadruple their online ad revenue per reader.
I believe much of the answer lies in smarter advertising: make it fit the content contextually and make it fit the reader personally. These aren’t new ideas at all. They’re just important to bear in mind because, as worthwhile as Hirschorn’s piece is, it focuses its energy on the editorial side of the operation.
Which isn’t surprising at all, and that’s the point. Even in the best, most insightful posts on the future of news, writers who cut their teeth in a newspapering world in which editorial and business sat on different floors of the office still seem to forget that they really can try to reach into the business model and rejigger the numbers if they really want to.
If you can trade your analog dollars for digital dimes, after all, things don’t look so grim.
LATE UPDATE: Bringing thinking that’s a couple notches smarter, Felix Salmon begs to differ pretty seriously with Hirschorn on NYT.