Dan Kennedy has consistently has some of the most cogent, thoughtful ideas about how to find a new model for newspapers to survive in the Internet age. I strongly recommend anyone interested in the topic go back and read his different pieces on the topic. Hopefully, he'll take my advice and put together an eBook about it.
In his latest post, he advocated the Boston Globe give away Amazon Kindles in return for a three-year subscription, and then stop producing a paper version altogether. I think it's a great, forward-looking premise, but there are some details that maybe should change to make sure this is a working model for the future.
I wrote on his blog:
1. The Kindle is crippled with Amazon's DRM. And the company seems willing to mess with your Kindle if it whenever it wants. The Globe should be careful not to make an exclusivity deal with Amazon, or
2. Skip the Kindle altogether and wait for Plastic Logic's device to come out. It looks to be far superior a device to the Kindle, has a bigger screen and, most importantly, is open source. I think newspaper readers would really prefer the screen real estate Plastic Logic is promising.
Open Source really is key here, because it guarantee's the Globe's content is not a slave to Amazon's device or its business practices. Plus, PL says a second generation device will be foldable, making it even more portable.
3. Consider a paid iPhone app that offers better readability and multi-touch tools than the online version. The idea is to charge for added portability and convenience, so why not try this across several platforms? Palm's coming out with an iPhone competitor, too, so make an app for that. And for Google's Android mobile OS, etc.
In short, what you'd be charging for is not the content, but the enhanced access to that content, and charging advertisers for access to subscribers willing to pay money for what they want. That mirrors the old system of paying for newspapers where consumers paid for subscriptions for access to the content, and advertisers bought ad space for access to those consumers.
I have other ideas for how papers in general (and the Globe in particular) can try to enhance revenue as they transition to a digital-only existence:
1. Grow the social aspects of your sites. Boston.com's new commenting system allows users to create profiles, add avatars, and track other people's comments, show a history of their commetns, and more. This is a great idea. If you create a social web and foster a community on your pages, people will return to boston.com for their news, instead of relying on RSS feeds and Google news. It gives readers a compelling reason to return and view more pages (and thus, view more ads). It also gives you a chance to more directly target ads to users, which should generate more revenue and a higher asking proce for those ads.
2. Get comfortable linking elsewhere, and being linked from elsewhere. Now that you've created a social element to boston.com, make it compatible with facebook, myspace and other social Web sites. I can't tell you how many people link to news stories on their Facebook accounts: Allow users to link what they comment to their facebook account, and make it possible to do so in a single step. Same thing for friendfeed, myspace, digg, reddit, and anything else you can think of.
3. Promote Web specials like blog posts, videos and the like with the same prominence as your news articles. The Globe has hidden away some great features like Globe 10.0 and Take 2 in the bowels of sub pages for sections of the paper. Boston.com should have a videos, articles, blog posts and a twitter feed on the front page. The videos create drawing power and interest. The articles provide authoritative news. The blogs provide up to date opinion and developing news. The tweets provide up-to-the-moment updates. NECN.com is a good example of how this might look.
4. Find ways to sell premiums: Your content should be free online, but that doesn't mean it can't make revenue for you in other ways. Make yearbooks for the sports teams, which can include all your coverage for that year. Pitch them to customers as a yearly purchase for their kids as they grow up into big Sox fans. Do the same for election coverage, major issues (like Big Dig coverage), etc. Host live events with your reporters, columnists and staff. Each year, This American Life sells tickets for a live broadcast of their show. I and thousands of others across the country pay $20 to listen to something I get for free every week via podcast and on the radio.
If you enhance your Web site, you can charge more for advertising there. If you create premium access points via eReaders, Mobile phone platforms and the like, you create a new subscriber base. Piecing these things together puts you where your readers now go and makes you relevant again. Don't be afraid to fail, and don't ever, EVER eschew new technology as a fad again.