The newspaper business is on the ropes. Subscriptions and newsstand sales are down while advertisers move their money elsewhere. A new generation is coming of age hardwired to the internet, electronic distribution and social networking. They don’t read newspapers. And print production costs continue to rise.
Here in the Twin Cities we are still a two newspaper metro. The Star-Tribune on the Minneapolis side of town and The Pioneer Press on the St. Paul side. And like a lot of other papers around the country, the Star-Tribune is doing the worst of the two, has declared bankruptcy and is looking over some bleak prospects. Within a couple years, I think, we will be down to one paper here unless the economy improves faster than anyone is predicting or the Star-Tribune is bought by someone looking for a big tax deduction.
So what can the management of the Star-Tribune do in such a situation? Plenty from my perspective but it’s tough medicine.
Here’s my 5 point plan to transform the Star-Tribune into a profitable business:
Get Out Of The Print Business: Print is dying and it’s also a large part of the cost structure for the paper. Sell the printing department to someone else. Since the Twin Cities still has a good sized print community, this should be pretty straightforward. Now look for a print partner to do your production for the lowest price (this might be the same company who bought your printing department).
Cancel Weekday Hardcopy Editions: Yes, go down to 3 print editions a week from Friday-Sunday. You’ll take a hit on the subscription revenue but that’s the least of your worries right now. The savings in printing and delivery costs should make up for the shortfall.
Get Behind The Kindle edition. Do a contest to educate readers on how great the Kindle is and give some away. Even consider working out some deal with Amazon for a Kindle discount in exchange for a 2 year electronic subscription.: Electronic distribution is the future and the Star-Tribune should have a $5.99 monthly
Adopt Blog Software Online: Change the current website CMS to WordPress or Blogsmith. Run the online site like Engadget with a core of staff writers and a ton of freelancers. Post often and repost on all the social networks and messaging services. This will create more online traffic and more advertising revenue.
Embrace User Generated Content: There are a lot of good writers in town who would contribute to the paper in return for link-backs and/or a little bit of money. For niche content this would be a lot more cost effective than having staff positions. Encourage people to send their camera-phone pictures and videos of breaking news like CNN does. Good things will happen.
I really don’t think the Star-Tribune will do any of these things but some paper somewhere might. The news business is not going anywhere; the newspaper business is going away. Those who change now will still be around in 5 years. Hopefully one of these papers will be the Star-Tribune.
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