By: Steve Outing
In last week’s column about how print publications need to adapt to survive
in the Internet age, I closed out with a small bit of advice:
Accept the fact that your printed newspaper or magazine is
only one piece in the information stew being served up to future news
consumers. Try to guide them through our information-rich culture,
rather than trying to hold on to them solely – which is a lost
cause in a media environment where there are so many
Reader Dale Pearson of The FSBO Store & Magazine wrote
in with this reaction:
‘I’d strongly suggest that you move (that) point to the
top of the list. This should not be an afterthought. This IS the
heart and soul of the matter! This is what is causing headaches for
newspaper editors. Unfortunately, until the old-timers retire or die off,
the industry will be stuck with this thinking.’
He’s right, and this notion of ‘no media entity is an island’ deserves
to be explored further.
Why this is so
Surely you’ve noticed that the media environment has gone through a sea
change. The growth of the Internet has created a powerful new
communications medium that is rivaling old-timers like newspapers,
magazines, radio, and TV. But it’s done more than that: It’s also
profoundly affected ‘traditional’ media.
Before the Internet, media entities went about their business:
Mostly hoarding their own content – and only distributing it in
limited ways, such as with selected content distributed to wire
services, but seldom if ever to entities considered to be competitors.
With the goal of capturing readers/viewers as their own
– rarely, if ever, sending their customers to other media outlets.
This made sense in an overall media environment where the total number
of outlets was a finite and manageable number. A newspaper could count
on its paying subscribers getting most of their information needs met
with the paper, though they probably also listened to radio news and
watched TV news. But for local news coverage, local retail advertising,
and local classifieds, consumers didn’t have many other options. Local
TV stations worked hard to be viewers’ favorite station, having little
incentive to tell people to look elsewhere for information that they
couldn’t provide because of the time constraints of the broadcast
medium. And so on.
What’s different today – now that the Internet is a full-blown news
and information medium – is that the media market has grown
exponentially. To lapse into metaphor, pre-Internet, the sky had a lot
of stars, but it was still possible for a single star to shine brightly
enough that ‘viewers’ of that star would not be tempted (too much) to
look elsewhere. (It wasn’t that convenient to look elsewhere.)
Now the sky is crowded with millions of new stars (Web sites) that
distract viewers. Many of these stars are tiny, yet useful, and their
sheer number takes away time that people used to spend looking at the
old stars. Other new stars shine as brightly and are as well-funded as
the old-media stars. (It’s now super-convenient and easy for consumers
to look elsewhere than an established media product.)
So, what’s old media to do, faced with this new competition from a new
1. Share your content
To continue the metaphor briefly, stop trying to be a star that shines
brightly enough to distract viewers from the millions of other stars,
and start spreading your light around the sky – so as viewers look
around, they’ll see you in the form of your content appearing at other
media outlets. Don’t expect consumers to come only to the Web site (or
newspaper, or TV channel) that you want them to use. There are simply
too many options in the new communications environment that we’ve
created – so you must figure out how to get to consumers wherever
they happen to be.
That means sharing your content with all those new Web ‘competitors.’
Stop thinking of all those sites as competition for your audience’s
attention, and start thinking of them as allies in getting your content
in front of more people.
Web syndication companies (like Screaming Media and iSyndicate ) provide
a good first step. They aggregate content from a wide variety of content
providers and distribute it to a wide spectrum of Web content buyers
– including the promising market of corporate Web sites, intranets,
and vertical portals that seek niche news coverage to enhance their own
New-comer iCopyright.com also is worth investigating. That
company provides an automated online rights service that allows any
reader of your content (whether published online or in print) to quickly
purchase republication rights – whether an individual seeking
multiple-photocopy permission or a commercial publisher wanting to
reprint an article. (Look at the bottom of any Los Angeles Times
article to see this in action.)
These syndication and rights-clearinghouse companies aren’t just for
online content providers; they make sense for traditional news
media entities too. Just as Web sites need to distribute their content
(and thus brand) throughout the Web in order to get noticed, old-media
entities need to spread their content around as a means of retaining and
growing an audience in this environment of media over-saturation.
2. Co-opt your ‘competitors’
I will go so far as to suggest that in our current media environment,
news publishers should narrow their view of who they treat like
‘competitors.’ In licensing content to other publishers, be flexible in
allowing companies that are competitive to purchase your content.
For example, many newspaper companies which operate Web sites consider
online city guides that operate in their markets as competitors –
and that’s certainly the case. But in our current media environment,
it’s better to get the newspaper’s content on the competitive city guide
site because it builds the paper’s brand recognition (not to mention
that it brings in content licensing fees). To exclude a Web competitor
from taking your content is a missed opportunity to spread the light of
your star around the Web sky.
Withholding cooperation from those you consider competitors is old-media
thinking. Engaging in mutually beneficial relationships, such as sharing
your content with a competitor for a financial and branding payback, is
new-media thinking more appropriate to a world of a ‘million channels’
where it’s difficult to keep readers’ attention.
3. Be like a portal
Many a news and other type of company has decided to create a ‘portal’
Web site – providing users with a first stop that directs them to a
wide variety of content from external sources. Even if your Web site or
traditional media organization is not a portal, you can benefit from
employing a portal-like strategy.
In our information-rich society, no single media entity can serve every
information consumer’s every need. Consumers will rely on multiple media
– a news Web site for breaking news; a newspaper for analysis and
context; a TV show for educational programming; etc. And because so many
types of information are available with a few clicks, it’s foolhardy to
pretend that your lone publication, Web site, or TV program can do
The early success of the major Web portals (Yahoo!, Excite, et al)
indicates the promise of the portal approach. In our new-media
environment – of an overload of information and ease of finding new
information sources – it’s a useful and popular service to help
people find what they need.
Web sites need not be afraid to link to others. (You’ll find links to
other Web sites’ articles on pure new-media company news sites –
such as Cnet.com and The Industry Standard – moreso than on
the Web sites of old-media companies.) Your Web site is more likely to
be indispensable to its audience if it provides a filtered window to the
world beyond its proprietary content.
Likewise for traditional media outlets, they are more likely to be
successful if they can serve as a guide or filter to the information
glut that consumers face today. So newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV
stations need to get past the idea that they are an island. They need to
build bridges to the rest of the world, connecting to the wealth of
information and services that is the Internet.
It’s a different media world here in the year 2000. You only have to
look up at the stars crowding each other in the sky to know that you
have to do business differently in order to stand out.
This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Online.
Tips, letters, and feedback can be sent to Steve at
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher