Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Nerd Saves Newspapers

Mark Cuban is a friggin genius. Most people regard him as the buffoonish owner of the Dallas Mavericks. As one of the first people who cashed in on the dot com boom he is thought of as lucky more then smart. People do not give him credit for being a rather successful businessman. Proof is that in one post on his blog, he is able to offer the most sensible solution I have seen to turning around the death of the newspaper.

There are a number of issues which are contributing to the demise of the daily paper which have been rehashed ad infinitum. The internet has made information quicker, easier to access and free. I always feel like a chump whenever I pay for my subscription to the Toronto Star. All of the articles in the paper are offered for free and updated on their website. They also publish the free commuter paper, Metro. Meanwhile I’m stuffing change in an envelope every two weeks.

Cuban offers up a number of ideas. Mainly he promotes the use of a newspaper website as a sort of central marketplace. Using Amazon as an example he shows that people continue to purchase from Amazon because with their credit cards on file, they are one click away from buying. As newspapers have the same ability they should be taking advantage of this be offering additional services and working with local companies to offer special deals. Suggestions he makes include offering delivering a DVD on the day it is released with your morning paper for the same price you would find it in the stores. There’s a reason he is a billionaire and it is not his good looks.

Cuban does mention one of the biggest problems with being a newspaper subscriber. Namely as someone who pays for the paper I receive the same access to information that a non subscriber does. The only thing I receive as a subscriber is a bill, ink on my hands and the ability to read the information on the toilet seat without ruining my laptop. There is no added benefit to being a subscriber. Why should I pay for a product, when I can get it for free? Shouldn’t there be an added benefit to someone who has been receiving the paper at home since they were born?

The Metro is a great example. What started as a 12 page paper filled with wire copy has expanded to 60 pages which include columnists and huge chunks of news I pay for in The Star. On some days it’s bigger then the Toronto Sun. So now you want me to pay for the Star, which is bulkier, when I can read the Metro on the subway and the Star at work for free. Then you wonder why your revenue is falling.

Unlike Cuban, newspapers, like record companies have not yet figured out a way to work with the net. If a product can be acquired easier and for free, people generally won’t pay for it. Now add a benefit and people may start paying. Willy Wonka figured that out a century ago with his golden ticket and he is a fictional character and crazy. Hell why not bundle a CD with a t-shirt. People love T-Shirts and you can’t download a 100% Cotton T with a band logo on it.

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