Ex-Washington post digital chief, Caroline Little, has been talking in Amsterdam having a stab at answering the question about how newspapers can make money online. It is a tough question with no easy answers, but her advice is quite right when she says the winners are going to be those people trying new stuff.
Speaking at the World Digital Publishing Conference in Amsterdam, Little, who advises The Guardian in the US, started by saying that despite impressive gains in audience and advertisers, newspaper websites do not produce revenue comparable to that of print newspapers despite their enviable reach.
Sad truth all those quite excellent websites, with video, and community do not pull in the cash. It makes an unhappy coupling as in this climate print circulations are shrinking and investment rising in digital – but without the rewards.
Little, who spoke at the AOP 2007 conference, cited the New York Times and The Washington Post, which are at the top of the heap in terms of their percentage of online revenue as part of overall revenue but it is still not enough and there is no ready-made solution.
That said Little has tips that are worth remembering and apply not only to newspapers, but to any online publishing business and chief among those is that while news websites share the same journalistic values as the newspapers the web is a different medium with different rules and that means trying new things. Here she adds a great piece of advice – not everything will work so do not be afraid to fail because as she puts it “fear of failure can be debilitating”.
Little’s four areas digital growth:
For a newspaper, storytelling options have long been limited to text, photography and graphics. The rise of the Web has added a number of new tools to this equation: video, audio, photo galleries, panoramic photos, blogs, etc. Now, we can approach a story with a different mindset, one that says, “what’s the best way to tell this story?”
One often hears about the web’s endless news hole. The endless news hole, of course, is largely a myth. You can only publish as much good journalism as you can produce, and that takes skilled reporters and editors. And most papers have fewer reporters and editors than it did a few years ago. But what that endless storage space is perfect for is databases that can useful to your readers. Washingtonpost.com has been very active in this area. For example, congressional voting database going back to 1991 and a searchable list of U.S. war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here are a few things you need to know about your readers: some of them act like jerks, many of them won¹t like the journalism you produce, and the angrier ones tend to be more active. But the upside is huge. When given a chance to participate in the conversation, readers come back. A lot.
Distribution (as key as content)
In this new world of media fragmentation, media companies cannot control the format in which readers consume our journalism. That’s scary, but also a huge opportunity. We now have the chance to get our journalism in front of readers while they’re driving via audio podcast or radio, while they¹re watching their televisions via set-top boxes or video podcasts, or while they¹re standing on a street corner looking for a restaurant via cell phone or iPod. And we can push journalism to them via RSS, email newsletters and widgets.