I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once. Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I bookmarked to read later – and actually got around to reading (pause here for an astonished gasp) – struck me as having a stronger relationship than was initially apparent.
First was this bit from the Economist, about how professionals are starting to really flock to online social networks:
On LinkedIn, the market leader, members have been updating their profiles in record numbers in recent weeks, apparently to position themselves in case they lose their jobs. The two most popular sites, LinkedIn and Xing, have been growing at breakneck speed and boast 29m and 6.5m members respectively. And, in contrast to mass-market social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, both firms have worked out how to make money.
The article goes on to raise two interesting points 1) if Facebook can start becoming friendlier to business users it might start actually making money, and 2) professionals are shit-scared about the economy and looking at social networks as great “Career Insurance” places to schmooze people you met once at a conference, snarfed their biz card and never had a use for.old friends.
Next to this was a piece from BusinessWeek, another in the seemingly endless series of kidney punches from the biz community about how newspapers are doomed, done for, goners, forks stuck into them and vultures already descending.
So who would profit from a disappearing newspaper? Local TV and cable, for starters. The city daily is still the biggest single media entity in virtually any market. Its main pitch to advertisers is brutally simple: We have more craniums to dent with your message than anyone else.
Which brings me to a disquieting conclusion. The obvious venues for all this displaced journalistic energy are a gazillion new independent online endeavors, be they individual blogs or bigger efforts like MinnPost.com. They will make for fascinating media ecosystems within individual cities, and some will become hits. It is much less certain whether ad dollars will follow. Ultracheap classifieds site craigslist has simply “destroyed revenue,” [emph. mine - dlf] says Dave Morgan, a former newspaper executive who founded behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, and revenue that no longer exists won’t shift to new ventures. Others point out that key newspaper advertisers—local auto dealers and realtors, say—already have many outlets for ads online, not least of which are their own Web sites or national sites such as Cars.com that serve up targeted ads.
For those sensing untapped riches in ads from pizzerias and dry cleaners, well, good luck, says Borrell. “Local is a very unorganized and dirty business,” he says. “People look at local as this one-ton gorilla, but in fact it’s 2,000 one-pound monkeys.” And no publisher can afford to sit down with a city’s 2,000 small fry to sell each a $50 ad. The bitterest pill of all for newspaper denizens is that, while nature abhors a vacuum and all that, in this case there may not even be one left to fill.
Yowch. So newspapers will all just die, and by this point in time, they’ve become so irrelevant and useless that nobody will even really notice that they’re gone? Sheesh. Start passing out the pistols & hemlock in America’s newsrooms, eh?
I’m going to have to disagree with this nihilistic conclusion. Yeah, I know the local online niche ad market is impossibly fragmented, and it would cost a publisher more to pay an ad sales rep than that person would produce in revenue. Solution: don’t pay the ad rep. Do what El Tiempo in Bogota calls “auto-pauta,” or DIY ads. BTW, I really do recommend you click through on that link to El Tiempo. They are one of the smartest operations out there, they are making piles of cash off internet ads, and they are constantly (ruthlessly, relentlessly) refining their approach.
Moreover. When you look at what the social networking sites are really selling their users, you start to come to the conclusion that what a local newspaper – correction: what the local newspaper of the future – offers can be a lot more compelling.
Think about what the users really want from these social net sites. Chatting with friends, yeah sure. Blowing your own horn in a socially acceptable way, yessiree. Looking for the next step up on the ladder? Well, yeah … but the problem with a lot of the listings on the social net services is that they are from all over the place. Yeah, you can filter them. But we all know that most of the really good jobs are never spamadvertised like this. We find them through referrals – which is where recruiters/headhunters come in. And local friends & business acquaintances.
One of the fastest-growing areas on LinkedIn is the “Question” section, where pros reach out to other pros in their groups, and ask something that’s on their mind. They’re trying to have conversations.
That should be taking place at a newspaper site. Sooner or later, it will. Either the papers will replicate it and include it in their future selves, or they will do a Borg takeover. The paper is a much more logical place for this kind of activity – it includes access to the reference materials from the past, a panel of trained experts to step in and help moderate the discussions, or kick new discussions off with provocative questions, and a huge archive of relevants facts and materials that can be used to make the conversations that much more valuable.
Example: One of the questions I’m participating in on LinkedIn is where to put your money now that the market is tanking so badly. There are some very smart market analysts chiming in here. But it would be nice to be able to have a window/panel open on the screen showing the various stock tables, and perhaps links to content locally that makes the point that some foreign markets are going to be able to ride out this storm, while others just get crushed.
The fact that biz users, those who have education & disposable income, have had to range far afield in search of information that they need to use in their careers, is an indictment of the lack of creative thinking at newspapers. It will take time and effort to reverse the momentum … because the very users that papers covet most are abandoning papers.