By: Joe Strupp
MediaNews Group CEO William Dean Singleton and President Jodi Lodovic announced to employees recently a plan to provide less print content on the Web for free and differentiate Web site news from the print product.
” … we continue to do an injustice to our print subscribers and create perceptions that our content has no value by putting all of our print content online for free,” Singleton wrote in the May 8th memo first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site. “Not only does this erode our print circulation, it devalues the core of our business – the great local journalism we (and only we) produce on a daily basis.”
The entire memo is posted below:
May 8, 2009
To: MediaNews Group Employees From: Dean Singleton, Jody Lodovic Re: Interactive Strategic Summit
Two weeks ago, 22 executives from across the company, including Publishers, Editors, and Interactive leaders, met to discuss MediaNews Group’s interactive strategy. While our websites attract a significant audience and drive considerable page views, we face three daunting challenges that needed to be addressed.
First, we continue to do an injustice to our print subscribers and create perceptions that our content has no value by putting all of our print content online for free. Not only does this erode our print circulation, it devalues the core of our business – the great local journalism we (and only we) produce on a daily basis. Second, our interactive revenue growth has slowed because it has been too closely tied to our print classified business, which has suffered with the advent of Craigslist and other free online classified opportunities. Finally, we are not significantly extending the reach of our audience, as our online products too closely resemble the newspaper, and thus fail to meaningfully reach the next generation of readers.
This interactive summit was meant to address these issues head-on; to build a strategic plan that places a value on our content, protects our core print business, extends the reach of our audience, and creates new revenue opportunities online. We cannot continue to give all of our content away for free; we must consider, create and deploy new products and sites that both decouple our interactive revenue from our classified business and offer a compelling new experience for a younger (non-newspaper buying) demographic.
From this conference, we have built consensus on a three pronged approach to enhance our business moving forward:
* We will begin to move away from putting all of our newspaper content online for free. Instead, we will explore a variety of premium offerings that apply real value to our print content. We are not trying to invent new premium products, but instead tell our existing print readers that what they are buying has real value, and to our online audience (who don’t buy the print edition), that if you want access to all online content, you are going to have to register, and/or pay.
If a non-subscriber wants the newspaper content in its entirety online, they will be directed to some sort of registration or pay vehicle (and if they are a print subscriber, they will have full access at no charge). To be clear, the brand value proposition to the consumer is that the newspaper is a product, whether in print or online, which must be paid for.
* We will begin differentiating our sites from the newspaper and focus on strategies designed to reach younger audiences and extend our reach. The websites, newspaper.com as we call them now, will become a different product. This new site, which we have been calling news.com, will be a regional news site that is actively managed to present breaking news. It will continue to draw a content from the newspaper (but probably in a more abbreviated form), but will also have user-generated content, community involvement and third party content. News.com will continue to serve our existing audience, which spends a lot of time on our sites, and drive significant traffic. They like and depend on our sites for their national and local news. We must not alienate them as we strive to expand our audience and attract younger people and non newspaper subscribers. Obviously, our sites must draw upon the content of the newspaper, but the presentation of that content will be different. News.com will be an entry page to new content offerings, local retail advertising opportunities and premium offerings.
* We will build a new local utility site (Local.com), which is an ecosystem of local information, resources, user content, shopping guides, and marketplaces. This site will be focused on a younger audience as well as other targeted audiences based on demographics which are attractive to our current and potential advertisers. We have the advantage of being the trusted source of for news and information in our communities and have a large base of traffic to feed into Local.com. Local.com will leverage existing newspaper content and existing traffic, and we will add new content (such as Entertainment/Lifestyle) to target a younger audience. Central to this local site will be an aggregation of city or community sites (in the YourHub model) and marketplaces. Local.com will be the ultimate site for people to find stuff, do stuff, and get stuff done in their local market.
We will initially focus on five or six niche vertical content channels to support targeted advertising opportunities (many of which have reverse publishing opportunities). We will build these out with a common template, for ease of execution and maintenance, and deploy across the company.
New tiered circulation pricing strategies will be considered as part of, and tied to, the above online strategies. Such pricing strategies will be designed to maximize revenue, improve overall profitability, add value to full priced, seven day delivery, subscriptions, and reinforce the value for online content.
In order to execute this vision, we have agreed that these new strategies will be done with a template approach, using a menu of common tools and vendors. We will take advantage of the size of MNG to leverage enterprise solutions and build off a common platform that allows for fast implementation and a companywide rollout.
We will form four taskforces (News, local, premium and technology) to drive these ideas to market. They will focus on content, sales, marketing, research and build a business plan. We will also form a technical taskforce to evaluate the needs of a new content management system.
We will keep you posted periodically as we develop these new products and as this strategy evolves. Our online business is a critical piece of the future growth of this company and is integral to growing and targeting new audiences. Our newspapers continue to attract the largest and most desirable audiences in our local markets, but we feel strongly that developing new and targeted audiences online will position us to deliver the most comprehensive and effective solutions for our advertisers.