A redesign is a waste of time and money if it doesn't deliver a return on investment. Download our report to learn how to make your redesign pay off, then see how four newspapers boosted readership and revenue by following our advice.
Brass Tacks Design Get real about the Internet
Journalists are fond of saying “There will always be a newspaper because there's always been a newspaper.” John Hughes, former editor of the Christian Science Monitor, is one of many who cling tightly to this belief. He equates the Internet with other technological advances in communication – none of which put us out of business.
To adherents of this shibboleth, I say, “Wishing won't make it so.”
The Internet is not evolutionary like the telegraph, telephone, radio or television – it's revolutionary like Gutenberg's movable type, because it provides everyone with a powerful publishing technology. It's not merely a new way to publish – it's the democratization of publishing. Freedom of the press no longer belongs to those who own one.
Furthermore, the Internet allows virtually everyone to publish (i.e. HTML, myspace, blogs, etc.), search (database) and communicate (email) – three killer apps in one. Nuthin' else comes close.
The job prospects for scribes were pretty bleak after Gutenberg. Our future could be just as bleak unless we act quickly and decisively. Tie journalists' pay to circulation
Journalists are motivated by many things like Pulitzers, public service and pride, but circulation is not one of them. The only way to produce a newspaper that puts readers first is to make it a pocketbook issue for the producers. Everyone from the executive editor to the obit clerk should have a portion of their compensatory package tied to circulation performance.
What kind of stories would this strategy promote? Shorter stories that are compelling, relevant and interesting – the kind of stories readers consistently read – and fewer thumb-suckers.
Better still, this would put an end to dull budget meetings! Ignore your loyal readers
Most redesigns begin with a survey of subscribers. What a waste of time and money!
If you want to sell more newspapers, it's pointless to chase after loyal readers because you can't sell any more papers to them. Equally pointless is the pursuit of non-readers – because they're non-readers. Any attempt to change their behavior is tough going.
So start with the low-hanging fruit – focus your attention on pass-along readers and single-copy purchasers. Converting them to subscribers is the way to grow our base.
What's that? Afraid that pursuing these casual readers by changing the product will cause your loyal readers to drop their subscriptions?
You can't shake a loyal reader. That's why we call them loyal. Stop running news stories
In print, anyway. All news should be on your newspaper's site – that's the fastest platform and that's where breaking news belongs. From now on, every story in print is a second-cycle story. Use print for stories about the news, not to merely report what happened 24 hours ago.
Stories that merely repeat what readers already know are read by no one and reinforce the notion that we're out of touch.
This means an end to banner headlines like “We got him“ – published by most papers on Monday, Dec. 15, 2003, even though Saddam was captured on Saturday, Dec. 13. A more precise headline would have been, “We got him…two days ago.“
The Internet is for breaking news. The newspaper is for stories that provide context and meaning about the news. Feed the cash cow
There are two ways to improve the bottom line: cut costs or grow the gross. We've cut and cut and cut, but not invested to grow the gross.
We're milking the cash cow dry while we eat the flesh.
You know something's wrong when publishers and editors are resisting and resigning almost daily. It's time to invest in people, paper, products, promotion and production (inserters and new presses with lots of color capability.)
Costs will rise. We can't maintain margins forever by acting like cannibals. Drop the price
Fifty cents a day doesn't sound like much. But $163.99 a year sounds like real money. We need to drop the price of subscriptions below $100.00 a year. Most papers offer deep discounts anyway, so this may not be as drastic as it seems. And a lower cover price could reduce churn and the costs associated with it.
Sure, we'll take a hit on circulation revenue, but the real money to be lost is in advertising. We must resist pressure to drop ad rates as penetration declines. On the other hand, advertisers will pay even higher rates as long as they get results, but first we gotta deliver the eyeballs. Lots of them. So we gotta sell more papers at any price. Solve the online revenue riddle
Everyone agrees that online is the future but no one has come up with a revenue model that works. So forget about page views and unique visitors – the only metric that matters is money.
Current online “profitability” is a smoke-and-mirrors illusion. Most online revenue comes from upsells of print classifieds. And most sites do not subtract the actual cost of all the “free” news content they get from print. Subtract these dollars and our sites begin to look like vanity projects.
Let's not invest another moment in improving our online content. Let's put 100% of our energy into solving the online revenue riddle. The solution is not going to fall from the sky like Newton's apple.
Our sites don't sell because they weren't designed to sell. The first newspaper sites had no ads at all. The ads we run today are shoehorned into designs based on those early, ad-free formats – and they look it.
We need to start with a clean sheet of paper and design webpages that provide an attractive environment for advertising. Something like this. Or this. Promote as if success depends upon it
Because it does. Can you think of any product that doesn't depend on advertising to promote it?
Using the paper to promote the paper is merely preaching to the choir. If you want to catch fish (a.k.a. readers), you fish where the fish are. People who aren't reading the paper aren't seeing in-paper promotion. We need to get our message out – outside the paper – on radio, billboards and TV.
Join hands and sing Kumbaya
This is no time for infighting between editorial, advertising, marketing and production.We need enterprise-wide solutions to the challenges we face. It's silly and counter-productive to fight amongst ourselves when we're all working toward the same goals of readership and revenue.
Pardner, it's time for meaningful horse-trading that transcends time and space. Editorial needs to give up some deadline time so production and distribution can get newspapers on the doorstep earlier. And editorial needs to trade some section front space with advertising for better space inside. This will create new premium ad positions on fronts and consistent treatment for anchored content inside.
For instance, most papers worldwide put display ads on their front pages. I'm sure this is coming for U.S. newspapers, what with the Gannett papers already squeezing strips across the bottoms of their fronts. There's no point in waiting for this wave to catch up with us. Bite the bullet and start running those ads now. But take an active role in the design of these ads, rather than accepting the ugly ads advertisers often prefer and those that newspaper ad departments often build. Redesigns should incorporate these new ad sizes and shapes.
A newspaper war, that is. The Sunday Star Times, New Zealand's largest newspaper, faces fierce competition on the newsstand from two tabloids. So it was redesigned to improve its above-the-fold presentation. The complete story will appear here and in the next issue of SND's DESIGN.
The Californian's redesign earned it a spot on Editor & Publisher's list of “Ten That Do it Right.” According to E&P, Bakersfield is appealing to its “really, really conservative market with a really, really radical redesign.”