Can old monopolies learn new tricks?

The old newspaper franchise was based on delivery — metro papers could land the paper on enough doorsteps to build a mass audience. The Internet eliminates that advantage. Google News, Yahoo News, Topix, etcetera can deliver news to any computer or mobile device — and indications are that readers trust these online aggregators. How should newspapers respond? One tactic could be to become the center of their local blogospheres. Newspapers could use their clout as the city or regional forum to encourage existing bloggers to post their writings on a paper-sponsored site. They could recruit citizen journalists to cover niche news from little league to hobbies to whatever. The goal would be micro-coverage of local communities, drilling so deeply into a region as to become its central nervous system. Newsgathering would replace delivery as a competitive advantage. Once the paper is hard-wired into a region, I have to think that advertising and other revenues would follow.

Do B2B pubs show the way? The current rule governing hybrid print-online publications is that print revenues are growing slowly if at all. while online revenues grow at double-digit rates — but still don’t bring in enough dollars to offset the declines on the print side. Well, the business-to-business magazine world may be turning a corner in this regard according to a Folio Magazine article titled “The Revenue Tipping Point” that includes this observation:

“While online revenue is still dwarfed by print revenue for most publishers, many are starting to see real revenue growth online exceed the real revenue loss in print on a quarterly basis.”

The article deals with high-tech trade press so their audiences are more tech-savvy and better connected than the general populace and therefore their example may not directly translate. On the other hand they experienced the loss of revenues to the Web several years ahead of the mainstream media. The article offers this quote from Mike Azzara, senior vice president of Internet Business at CMP :

“Our core readers all went online in 1995 and haven’t looked back. Publishers are only beginning to grasp what they’re dealing with. They may not be able to grasp the extent to which they will change their business model.”

Leave no eyeballs behind. MediaPost reports on a study done by the media services firms Magna Global USA that suggests that the poorest third of the U.S. population won’t be able to afford broadband Internet in 2010, and that this lack of reach may force certain advertisers to stick with truly mass media, such as television. It’s a short but thought-provoking story. What type of advertisers will need to reach the low end? Toilet paper and soap makers? And can TV truly deliver a mass audience in the age of several hundred channels? And then there’s the premise — that broadband will be priced beyond reach. Every mother’s son seems to have a cell phone these days and I think those monthlies are costlier than broadband. Oh, well, by 2010 we’ll all have forgotten anyhow.