Thursday, June 18, 2009

What local newspapers should do #5

This is the fifth in a series of 10 posts on steps local newspapers should take to survive and thrive in the face of the economic meltdown and the societal shift to the Internet.

5. Make the local newspaper a transactional site. The newspaper needs to provide a way for local users to research products online and to buy them through the newspaper’s business directory/web site. This recommendation is obviously is related to recommendation #4. Instead of remaining a “classified ad taker,” the surviving newspaper company would focus on actually aligning itself with local businesses, many of which would probably never advertise in the newspaper. Just as newspapers can’t rely on classifieds, they also can’t survive off display advertising. Newspapers need new ways to bring in revenue. One such path would be to become a middleman for local commerce. Many local businesses are stumped by the web and new technology and newspapers could be the ones to provide them a bridge to connect with customers online and on portable devices. These companies would welcome somebody making their business more successful, especially if they knew that the price of doing so would not be a significant upfront cost but would instead be a percentage of the revenue. This is one place the newspaper’s brand could help. Doing this would reinforce a newspaper's emphasis on looking out for the people, whether in monitoring government or in helping them make intelligent decisions as consumers. Newspapers could be of service to their readers by providing access to inventories or sales by local outlets.

Here are some concrete steps:
• Adopt business directory software that allows local businesses to manage their own Web sites, take advantage of the newspapers’ expertise in search engine optimization and connect with smart phone users on the go who might be in their vicinity.
• Communicate to the community that one of the roles of the newspaper is to organize all the information they might want to know about the community, including where to buy things or to get services.
• Use the membership model with these businesses to make them promoters of the newspaper. Just as businesses like to tout their membership in a better business bureau, they should be exposed to the benefits of being able to tout their membership in newspapers’ encyclopedia of what’s available in their communities.

Next: Newspapers should revamp their approach to print advertising.
Previous: Make the classifieds a separate, standalone business.


  1. " The newspaper needs to provide a way for local users to research products online and to buy them through the newspaper’s business directory/web site."

    I hate this.
    I want to go directly to website of the merchant. No intermediaries for me.
    I buy from Amazon direct, but I don't buy when the goods come from a 3rd party.

    Sales tax.
    I don't like buying local on the website when I can buy remote and avoid the sales/use tax.

  2. Thanks, Dave. I think the newspaper would be making it possible for the merchant or business to connect with you. I'm not sure the user would even know the paper was involved. The main thing is that somebody is going to need to help the business succeed online, or at least I think that's likely. Why not the newspaper?

  3. When the Rocky was in operation, I believe you carried a Shopzilla bug on your Web page. If you remember the Web traffic data, how often was it used? I'll lay a bet not much. Readers come to newspaper sites to get information, not to shop.

  4. Mr. Allen, your final sentence raises an important question. What is information? We know that research studies of newspaper readers show that one of the top reasons they read a paper is for advertising. They want to know what's for sale and compare prices. I believe newspapers shouldn't define information too narrowly on the Web. News is the core of a newspaper and its Web site. But it may be other types of information that help support news gathering. I believe in the idea of a newspaper web site as a resource for a community, a collector and organizer of data that helps people live better. Shopping and commerce can be part of that formula. As for Shopzilla's bug, that was essentially brand advertising. Their brand was associated with a trusted brand in our market and other Scripps markets, the local newspaper. I don't know how much traffic such links generated. But we also included links for the Scripps cable networks, such as HGTV and Food. It also reflected well on the Rocky, I believe, to be part of a company that developed those brands.

  5. John: A while back Christopher Ryan and I wrote "A Classifieds Manifesto" and posted it on our site, Concept No. 1 of the Manifesto is similar to your idea of newspapers getting involved in transactions.


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