InDenver Launches – Rocky Mountain News Staffers DIY News Project

If the future of news is that it will live as a web-only play, then the InDenver and Seattle PI sites, which are (to use the horticultural metaphor) scions of the original papers are perhaps visions of what the future could look like.

Good luck and Godspeed. Selling information on the web is a business fraught with all kinds of unanticipated complexities.

Good luck and Godspeed. Selling information on the web is a business fraught with all kinds of unanticipated complexities.

The InDenver site has gotten some good & enthusiastic replies from readers eager to get good quality local news information, and who are seemingly frustrated with their other local options. Unfortunately, InDenver appears to be struggling with its e-commerce functionality – multiple readers are writing in to report that their sessions are bombing out, that they’re frustrated, that the interface is broken, or unwieldy.

Welcome to my world, folks.

We (i.e. and – don’t bother trying to find them – they both folded) tried to do this back in 1999, back in Web 1.0, and there were a lot of lessons that we learned that seem to have been lost in the mists of time.

If you are going to try to be in the business of selling information (or the way we couched it, “a fulfilling multimedia entertainment experience”) online, the thing to remember is that things happen way, way faster than they do in the offline/print world.

E-Commerce for Former Print Reporters

A user subscribing to a print edition of a newspaper will fill out a 3×5 card subscription form, or mail off a check in an envelope, and patiently wait a week or so for the paper to start showing up at the front door.

A web subscriber will get halfway through filling out the form – and then a question (how old are you? male or female? what’s your zip code?) will piss them off because it seems too intrusive, and they will click away.

Or it will come time to enter their credit card information, and the process will be onerous enough so that they start to have second thoughts about it, and they will be gone.

Back in the day, we lost 80% of our customers during the payment process.  You absolutely HAVE to make this as smooth and quick and painless as possible, or they will start to think twice about it – and then they are GONE, BABY GONE.

Lingering in the ether, the Seattle P-I keeps trying.

Lingering in the ether, the Seattle P-I keeps trying.

Customer Service is More than Responding to Complaints

This isn’t just fixing broken links on the site, or making sure that your pages display the same across a wide range of browsers – although that is absolutely crucial as well.

No, you have to be really, really, REALLY responsive when your readers reach out to you.  You have to pay attention to what they’re telling you through their clicks, through the time spent per page, through the amount of clickthru you’re seeing on your targeted ads.  You have to pay attention to what they’re saying in the comment spaces, to the kinds of photos and videos they upload (just pray that they care enough to send you their material), to the way they forward your stories to their friends and family.

That is what customer service is on the web.

If you are going to try to make people pay for a service that you provide – if you are going to sell them something – then that thing damn well better be what they want. Or they will cease to buy it.  And they will do this far, far faster than they would with a print product.

The good news is that if you do manage to forge a connection to your audience, that if you do manage to get them committed to reading and acting on the information that you give  them – they will then fight like tigers to make sure that you survive.

Market Yourself Like Crazed Insurgents

You can’t just rely on the goodwill and lingering fondness of your former readership to sustain you.  That may work in the short term (if it works at all), but you have to make an organized, concerted effort to reach out to your market and GIVE THEM A GOOD REASON TO BUY YOU.

Take a look at the viral/guerilla marketing campaigns that were used by Bakotopia; your strategy may need to be a bit different, since you seem to be reaching out to a slightly older, more affluent demographic, but the underlying thinking is the same.

1. Go to the physical locations where your (would-be) readers are. Concerts, county fairs, farmer’s markets, coffee shops, playgrounds, whatever.

2. Have a persistent object that you can give away that will remind your readers that you exist. It can be a cheap 1-sheet flyer stapled to a lamppost, like a punk band playing an underground club. A t-shirt, hat, keychain, whatever with your logo and URL on it.

3. Reach out to your readers on regular intervals with updates as to what your new content is via email, instant messaging, SMS, whatever.

4. Enlist your readers in the effort to recruit more subscribers. Give them some kind of prize – free subscription, or exclusive merch.

Yeah, I know. This sounds like the way that rock bands run their fan clubs.  It is.  It also works.

You gotta be shameless. It feels like you’re a carnival barker, and that is not entirely inaccurate.  But if you are going to sell this thing you’ve created, you have to prepare yourself to get your hands dirty.

Christ, I hope you guys succeed.

Meanwhile, here’s the video of the final days of the Rocky Mountain News.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.