We saw an industry whose problems who could be mapped pretty closely back to a series of really bad decisions rather than external forces. Everyone had the Internet to deal with. Everyone didn't have to make the decisions this industry made.
The key decisions they made — and they were the worst decisions anyone has made in my memory — they made 20 years or so ago. They took their core product, the news, and priced it at free.
By James Harkin
If you are McDonald's, you can give away straws, napkins, Wi-Fi and really nice TV sets that everybody can watch, but you can't give away cheeseburgers. I think 20 years later the amount of revenue you can derive from advertising is less than they thought. But the bigger problem they created is telling your customer that your product has no value. This industry has literally trained a generation of people [to expect] that if you find content online, it must be free. That's a really, really tough place to crawl out from under. The second thing they've done is overemphasize and make a massive over-investment in digital.
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If you talk to the CEO of any major newspaper company in America, and you ask them, what are your core strategic initiatives for , you know what they'll say? That's what 20 years of over-investment has finally yielded. This industry isn't reading the data. What they're doing is listening to all the analysts and to Silicon Valley. For 75 years, this industry was an advertiser-first, subscriber-second business.
Two, selling ads. Three, cutting costs. They never talk about the product. And yet this is a product business. There's no argument that the product has decayed over the last 20 years.
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We have a very evolved consumer culture, and they know what quality looks like. It's perceived value.
How can you survive in a world of free news? The answer is, check out HBO.
If you don't watch Curb Your Enthusiasm or Game of Thrones , then you can't go to the water cooler or a cocktail party where everyone is talking about it. When it's essential like that, you pay your extra money. In our business and theirs, there's two revenue streams: there's the subscriber revenue stream and the advertising revenue stream. The newspaper industry focuses on the advertising stream. And the beauty is, if you create more customers, who are more engaged in content, guess what, advertisers show up.
Advertisers aren't loyal, they go where people are, where they're engaged. Readers are very loyal, they write us notes all the time. We take advantage of that. We run a subscriber-first business model.
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The first stage was massive investment in content. Kushner is right that newspapers have traditionally acted as civic boosters: publishers or CEOs might sit on development advisory boards and chambers of commerce, head charity drives, cultural events, literacy campaigns, etc. The model was hardly problem-free. Downtown real estate was and is a perennially touchy beat at newspapers. The New York Times , for instance, has long had a fraught relationship with the development of Times Square and its environs, with the most famous example being when the great Sidney Schanberg quit in after a column he wrote about coverage of the West Side Highway project was spiked.
And over the years, one could say the firewall system worked, more or less. In that case the editorial content of the magazine, at least, was clearly implicated. If the Register puts its best reporter on the transportation beat, and she comes up with great stories, then the conflict of interest could be said to have been successfully managed. This is not just any partner, but the city, the main thing the Register is supposed to cover. The month deal provides the media company with a clear and ongoing disincentive to cover the transit center aggressively, and the project, still under construction, has already been controversial.
The appearance problem is a problem.
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