The Daily Herald Betting Far More Than $20 Per Reader

Newspapers need a new pricing model that reflects the online age of readership.
I’ve got 3 ideas on how to help.

The front page of the suburban The Daily Herald, penned by the Editor, shouted the newspaper’s stance loud and clear: “Why our digital news cannot be free.

The 139-year-old newspaper has officially made the decision to charge for most content from the paper online. If you want to read The Daily Herald online from now on, you’re going to have to pony up $19.99 a month to do so. And by the way, no other paper in Chicagoland is charging digital readers on this kind of scale.

On paper – no pun intended – it seems to make sense that people should pay for digital content. We pay for books on news, we pay for TV and radio on news, so we should pay for papers that provide news, right?

Well…it’s not quite that simple as some would make it out to be.

Journalists and Editors say their content has value and needs to be paid for, because advertising isn’t bringing in enough revenue. Readers say the minute they’re charged money to read online content that they’ll go elsewhere to find it.

How does it all shake out?

The answer comes down to this: Is the content exclusive and original?

I have nothing against paying to read outstanding, exclusive content I can’t find anywhere else. But I have plenty against paying to read decent content that I can find elsewhere.

If a reader can get that content elsewhere from a source that isn’t charging for it, that’s where they’re going to go. So the paper has to provide content that’s spectacular and can’t be found anywhere else. Is the Herald’s content spectacular? It certainly has good columnists. But can I find solid reporting and opinions of the issues elsewhere? Honestly, much of the time the answer is yes.

The New York Times can get away with charging people a decent monthly flat rate for its digital version because it’s The New York Times. Let’s be honest. Is such a price worth it for unique reporting on the news of Bolingbrook and Hinsdale? I’m not trying to be rude here, but I’m wondering if local news reported on DuPage County is worth that investment to people these days.

Let’s look at the issue from a different medium – radio. When Howard Stern went to Sirius Satellite Radio several years back, people wondered if we’d hear the last of him as a result. Well, like him or hate him, Mr. Stern has a loyal, passionate fan base who know they can’t get Howard Stern or anything close to him anywhere else. The investment is a no-brainer for them because the content is original and exclusive. Is it working? Did you not see the gigantic contract he signed for more years on the air at Sirius?

For the same reason, like him or hate him, this is why I think Glenn Beck probably made a good move in asking people to pay for his content too.

So here are 3 ideas that might make more sense for smaller newspapers like The Daily Herald:

  • Subscribe by Columnist
    My suggestion is simple. If the columnist is good, people can pay through a Newspaper App Store to subscribe to that columnist. If the columnist is ordinary, they don’t. So there’s no waste in subscribing to a newspaper or magazine full of other stories I don’t want to read. On the other hand, if it’s a Chuck Goudie or Mike Imrem, they read who they want. Why force people to read a person who doesn’t have value in their eyes?
  • Subscribe by Story
    Come on. How much of that paper do you end up throwing away because you haven’t read the whole thing? And how many of us read the whole thing anyway? Enable us to subscribe by certain topics (or even possibly keywords) that ensure greater value for the readership because we stand a greater chance of reading what we want, when we want it.
  • Preview, then Pay
    Each story is previewed with 50-100 words, which then means the reader has the option to pay for the rest of that story if they want. I’ve certainly seen this strategy employed by other websites and if the content is powerful enough, I’ve paid to read the rest.

If structured correctly and reasonably, the newspaper actually has the ability to make more money through these methods than a flat rate. Plus, they’ll know which columnists bring more value to the paper through the quality of their stories being purchased. While it might not be free, the win here for readers is that they pay only for what they’re interested in reading.
If they don’t explore these alternatives, what you will find with the Daily Herald and other papers like them will be a smaller, more concentrated readership of people who value the content. The question of their survival will be how small that readership becomes. The paper has to go through growing pains of potentially trimming staff and printing fewer papers, but this is a natural progression of where the world is going. Bottom line: Do I see charging people $20 a month across the board to read online content as a good growth strategy? No.

To be clear, there’s still room in this world for the information put forth from journalists. No doubt about it. But newspapers have to create subscription plans that reflect readership habits of an online world, not a print one.

What’s your take? Do you agree with The Daily Herald charging $20 a month for online reading? What about charging for online readership in general? What are some examples of online content that’s worth paying for, in your opinion?

 

3 Times When Social Media Isn’t Right For You.

I’m a gigantic social media fan, but I can never automatically recommend everyone be on social media. True, I could analyze a company from a brand perspective and I’ll invariably recommend social media channels for them. But as I dig deeper, I come to realize that there are a few cases that it’s not right for. Less because it isn’t right for their brand or because their audience isn’t living on any social media channels, more because their internal culture just flat-out isn’t ready for it or isn’t fully behind it when they do decide to go down that path. I’ll give you some examples:

1. “I’m afraid of what people will say about us.”
If your customer service sucks, it’s going to get talked about whether you like it or not. So you might as well create a centralized place where you can funnel these thoughts from customers and respond to them accordingly. The beauty of social media is that it causes you to take a deeper look at your operation and see where there might be cracks in your service offerings. News Flash: We all make mistakes. Still, an overriding culture of fear or lack of understanding of social media tools can lead to overreaction – “Someone said something bad about us! Take down the Facebook Page before the CEO sees it!” Well, maybe you should just sit social media out for a while until you’re prepared to be honest with your organization’s shortcomings. Again, we all have weak points. If you don’t want to address those weak points, there’s an issue there that you’re glossing over. And the more you do ignore it, the more people will talk about that issue online in various places anyway.

2.  100% broadcasting rather than interacting.
I actually wrote a post about how the Cubs and White Sox in their Twitter streams were doing this within a monitored period of 72-hours – broadcasting almost entirely about themselves and not interacting with their fans on Twitter. Seriously, you’re telling me that nobody behind a computer in either of these front offices can ask daily questions of their fans and then respond to those questions? Come on!

The point here is that companies who want to exclusively post without any kind of interaction with their customer and prospect base are essentially just advertising to people. There’s nothing wrong with sharing all the pertinent news of your company with the outside world, but doing that without demonstrating any type of care for understanding their thoughts, wants, needs and questions is defeating the purpose of why they call it SOCIAL media. There are many other options to consider along an advertising or PR route if you want to go that way instead.

3. Expecting it to do everything while you do nothing.
Well, I just did some posts. Why isn’t my phone ringing?
Because you’re expecting Facebook to run your business instead of you. What phone calls are you making? What events are you attending? What appointments are you setting up? What prospecting are you doing (which you can partly do through social media among other things, by the way)?

If you’re in sales, then be in sales and sell. Social media can shine a light on your authority in wonderful ways but it can’t make up for a complete lack of sales initiative on your part. I’m not the world’s greatest salesperson, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought I didn’t need to press the flesh with real people as opposed to being behind a laptop all day. It’s when they have met me and then gone online to learn more (or perhaps done this in advance of the meeting – even better), that some solid credibility is hopefully built. If you don’t know how to get out there into the world or you’re timid about it, you’re not alone. Lots of people are not natural-born salespeople or networkers, yet strive to get better at it. Just don’t hide behind social media channels and then blame them for the weaknesses you’re not willing to address either.

Honesty. Transparency. Strong internal and external communication. Willingness to admit when things go wrong and a demonstration of what they’re doing to fix them. Taking action instead of merely planning and giving speeches. These are some of  the areas that can propel a company forward. It’s the companies that want to appear perfect, robotic and transmitting vs. conversing that probably want to take a long look at themselves before plunging into social media.

Fortunately, I’m finding those kinds of companies that have yet to understand the reality that they employ human beings and not robots are fewer and farther between. Innovation by its very nature is to say that what you did before was not as good as what you are doing today. So if we can be honest that we are getting better than we were before in product/service development, why can’t we be honest about how we’re striving to get better in other areas of the company? I think that’s a positive, rapport-building story waiting to be told with an audience. Not run away from.

How has your culture shifted from a closed loop to a more open style to your benefit? Share it! Or do you see challenges due to your industry that you’re not sure if you’re ready to be “social”? Let’s talk about them here if you’re comfortable sharing.

Cubs, Sox Looking Up at Teams in Social Media Standings Too

The San Francisco Giants are the world champions of social media. Oh, and I suppose they deserve that World Series trophy too.

Let me explain. I began to write this as a Cubs vs. Sox comparison of social media usage – and I do speak to this. But I also wanted to show the whole picture of how both the North Siders and South Siders compare against other teams in baseball. Plus, I didn’t want Sox fans to think I was trying to intentionally be biased against their team as I fully disclose my passion for Cubdom.

There may be Cubs Nation, Yankees Nation and Red Sox Nation, but in my view, the Giants are the best all-around baseball team in terms of being truly “social.”

And what’s crazy is that it primarily comes down to effort, not technology.

Some will say, “that figures because they’re in Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of tech people out there.” No, no, no. You and I both know that we’re talking about interaction, not building microchips. It involves maintenance and consistency but being a social media marketer doesn’t require hardcore engineering. So take that thought and smack it out of the stadium of your mind.

To arrive at this finding, I took a look at Sports Fan Graph from Coyle Media, Klout, Social Media Today and my own analysis of teams’ social media channels.

Now, let’s discuss some of those categories in greater detail:

Twitter Interactivity

I don’t judge too much by number of followers because obviously that favors the big cities vs. the smaller ones. Plus, I don’t believe that should be the most heavily weighted piece of criteria when measuring social media influence anyway. Instead, I looked at whether teams were actually conversing with followers or they were just using Twitter as an outlet for broadcasting.

Using this measurement, the Giants top off around 33 follower responses in a 24-hour span alone. That may or may not sound like a lot, until you consider what both of our teams did combined.

Cubs: Within a 72-hour span @Cubs acknowledged and responded to zero followers. The front office Tweeter at @CubsInsider was a little better – one follower in 72 hours. All the rest of their tweets were broadcasts.

White Sox: In the same 72-hour timeframe, @whitesox had the same result – zero responses to any followers.

 

Frequency of Tweets

Even with sharing play-by-play, scores and interviews, you can only tweet so much when it’s one-sided. The Giants are masters of pumping out tweets that are frequent and varied. As noted, they know how to give and receive feedback. At this point, they tally nearly 15,000 tweets.

By comparison, the Cubs and White Sox combined total a little less than half that many tweets. That’s a little embarrassing when you consider these teams have a fan base that’s much larger than, say, the Blue Jays or Rangers – just a couple of the teams out-Tweeting the Cubs and Sox.

 

Facebook Pages           

It’s almost a given that size of city will play an influence on size of Facebook Page, so it’s not terribly surprising that the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs have the largest amount of Fans on their Facebook Pages. Yet this is what makes the Giants’ showing of the 4th overall Facebook Page all the more respectable, considering San Francisco is in a market behind New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Philly and several others.

The White Sox aren’t terrible overall in terms of Facebook Page volume (11th), but they certainly shouldn’t be losing out to anyone within their division – and Detroit’s Facebook Page is nudging it out by 20,000 Fans.


Check-Ins

More check-ins occur at AT&T Park, home of the Giants, than any other baseball stadium, according to Social Media Today. As of right now, their fans have checked in on Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places 284,854 times.

The Dodgers are second (233,008) and the Cubs are third (233,008). Not terribly surprising considering the beauty of the Friendly Confines but this is nonetheless a bright spot for the Cubs as they’ve nudged past those checking in at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t mean to pick on the White Sox here, but the number of check-ins at US Cellular Field are dead last in baseball (24,285). That’s pathetic. And you can’t put that all on the fans either. If they had enough incentive to check-in through certain promotions, they’d do it. So let’s see the front office do something in this area so the Sox can at least pass up the check-ins by Houston fans at Minute Maid Park, which deserves to relegated to last for its stupid hill in center field.


Conclusion

Some teams can rest on their laurels and get a sizeable fan base, but you’ve got to admire when a team becomes Avis-like and tries harder because it knows it has to. The Giants are in a smaller city and even have to compete with a team across the Bay to a degree. Yet there’s nothing preventing many other teams from doing the things the Giants are doing – they’re just hustling a lot more when it comes to posting, tweeting and interacting. Who knows? Maybe that’s a mandate from the front office there – hustle on the field and off of it.

As far as the Cubs and White Sox, there’s room for improvement overall. From a social media perspective with all factors considered, both teams are looking up at the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. And when it comes to Twitter, they’re behind the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Braves, Dodgers and Blue Jays. If you believe in Klout scores, add the Mets and Rangers above them.

I can understand being behind the Yankees. But the Braves, Rangers and Blue Jays?

Wait until next year, I guess.

How about your thoughts on how your team can be a little more social? To spur ideas, check out this article in Fast Company that talks about the “6 Things Sports Teams Can Do With Social Media To Engage Fans.”

What happens when your leader IS your brand?

Most of us have bosses. Some of us have great CEOs. And a very precious few of us have what can only be referred to as a legend – the kind of iconic visionary who is responsible for making the brand what it is today in the eyes of many.

Of course, nobody is immortal. Time ensures we all move on, whether it is due to a new job, retirement or (not to be morbid), expiring. The challenge Apple faces today in the wake of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO (but he is staying on as Chairman) is no different than what Chrysler had to face in the post-Iacocca era, Ogilvy had to face without David Ogilvy, Disney without Walt or what Virgin will face when Richard Branson steps away someday. These are imaginative, charismatic, exciting people who not only shaped the foundation of their companies but have had influence far beyond it for managers in all kinds of industries. They are not just people associated with the brand. They ARE the brand.

What do you tell the world when they aren’t around on a daily basis anymore? Do you regret having linked to one person so strongly? Do you pretend it’s business as usual and no big deal?

It’s not a catastrophe as long as you remember a few key fundamentals before, during and after that transition for the good of your brand.

1. You don’t replace genius.
The world knows that. You’re not fooling anyone when you pretend that the person no longer involved in your company is no big deal. “Oh, yeah, he left but we’re humming along.” Give me a break. It’s about saying, “You don’t replace someone like him. He was remarkable. Fortunately, we’re a better positioned company today because of everything he’s done.” You don’t have to say you’re devastated and don’t know how you’re going to go on either. Which leads us to #2.

2. Show what the legacy has brought to your business and culture.
The Chicago Bulls couldn’t replace Michael Jordan. Hockey itself couldn’t replace Wayne Gretzky. But as a testament to their influence, they had disciples and students of their genius and skill. Steve Jobs has had the same and I’m sure Apple will take great steps to show how Jobs’ principles are alive and well even as he pulls back from responsibilities at the company. For example, Jobs was a master of stripping away technical elements that the consumer didn’t necessarily need – I doubt that Apple will suddenly become a company of unwieldy designed products now. They’ll keep this legacy strong if they can continue to show how they produce not just great products but magical feelings that make people salivate over what’s next. Great leaders have great influence and great respect long after they’re gone – how often do we hear architects and city planners in Chicago invoke the name of early 1900’s architect Daniel Burnham in an effort to stay true to his vision of the city today?

But again you ask, “isn’t Steve Jobs the primary person who triggers the emotion behind Apple with every introduction?” Yes. But that leads us to point #3.

3. Terrific leaders don’t leave the skill set cupboard bare when they leave.
If you believe Steve Jobs is a great leader – which I do – you know that he has been preparing his internal team for a moment when he was going to step away for some time now. And if you have ever studied the succession plans of companies that tend to do well in transition, fortune tends to favor those who select leaders from within who have understood the culture for quite some time – not a hard and fast rule, but a trend. In that context, can you imagine anyone better prepared to take on this responsibility than Tim Cook, a man who has been at Apple for over a decade and has already had to step in for Jobs once before? What about the talented people who have an eye not just for technological greatness but artistic beauty in what they create for Apple? Steve Jobs is a great thinker but to say he was the one and only visionary behind the iPad, iPhone or iCloud is doing his team a disservice.

4. Perception is reality. Think about experiences and emotions, not just dollars and cents.
You can talk about dollars, cents and profitability until the cows come home. But there’s an immeasurable quality of captivating customers like the past leader did that should be your goal just as much as earning revenue. People who take their eye off that function of branding and try to say that the company is in an even better place are fooling themselves. And I’m not just speaking externally – what’s the chemistry of your culture post-iconic leader? Is it just as fun of a place to be? If you used to be a magical place to work and have become just a profitable place to work, something is lost. Sure, technology must evolve and ways of doing business must evolve. But the spirit and vision that is the company’s reason for being must be just as inspiring to its people from one leader to the next. If you don’t have that, the promise of what your brand is all about rings a bit more hollow. I don’t think Mr. Cook will make the mistake at the next big Apple event of presenting just about profit and loss instead of trying to excite people for what’s next. I sure hope not.

5. With consistency and focus, you ensure the iconic leader leaves his mark on the brand forever.
None of us may live forever, but the more our successors can use our principles as a guiding force for why they do what they do, the more they honor us. More importantly, they keep the brand strong. If those principles fade because some new CEO from the outside wants to put his own stamp on things and forget all the good things done in the past, well, chances are the company probably loses its shine as well.

Most of us may never know what it’s like to work for a person so iconic that they become synonymous with the brand. But their leaving isn’t the tragedy – forgetting how they made the company great in the first place is.

Can you think of instances of where greatness transpired from one leader to the next? What about stumbles that could have been avoided? Of course, if you have a bold prediction for Apple’s future in the wake of Steve Jobs stepping back, I’d love to hear that too.

What the cabbie and Southwest Airlines taught me about agency efficiency

Today’s post skews a bit toward agency management but team productivity is good for all types of managers to think about.

The other day I was taking a cab from the north side of Chicago to downtown. Usually, there are several different ways you can go to get to your destination. And every time, the cabbie asks, “Which way would you like me to go?” For the passenger, it’s like a game of chance. Why should I have to decide this? Shouldn’t he know which way is fastest? Yet, even when I say, “whichever way you think is quickest,” I invariably can’t help but feel I’ve been taken for a ride in a bad way.

But this time, the cabbie did something that surprised me. He took me down a route that nobody else had where he didn’t even have to ask me which way I wanted to go – he just took me. And the way he took was absolutely the fastest and cheapest fare I had ever paid. Amazed, I said, “Why thank you. I’ve never gone this way and to be honest, it’s the lowest amount of money I’ve ever had to pay.”

He replied, “I know. What most cabs don’t get is that the faster I get you there, the faster I get to the next fare. They try to draw out fares by going the long way and taking more time but it never works out in their favor like my way.

Sometimes agencies act like those other cabs my newfound friend was referring to – they draw out each assignment over more time rather than less for the purpose of giving themselves a nice steady feed of work. Hey, we all want steady work in times like these. But if we try to draw out each project as much as possible, we’re only hurting ourselves. If we do a great job and get paid sooner, we’ll come out ahead by either that client giving us additional work or hopefully that client referring us to another potential client.

Note that I’m not advocating speed. I’m advocating efficiency. Agencies routinely confuse the two. If we know a project should be done in a certain amount of time, we shouldn’t milk it for all it’s worth for so much extra time than we need to. It becomes almost an issue of ethics and honesty at that point. So let’s look at this from the positive angle – if we say it will be done in 3 months but actually get it done in 2, we’re opening ourselves to begin new projects with that same client vs. sitting around and collecting money on work that’s already been done.

Southwest Airlines does an excellent job of managing time and expectations. Over the last several years, I have made dozens of trips on Southwest to different parts of the country. Almost every time, a person comes on and says, “I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but we’ll be taking off a few minutes later than we’d like.” Lo and behold, by the end of the trip, they not only make up the time but actually get there several minutes early. Every. Single. Time. As if they planned to do that all along. Which they probably did.

What will you do with the extra time? Be proactive (a common complaint people tend to have about agencies) and do some brainstorming on additional ways you can help the client’s business without them asking you to. Then you can potentially upsell your client on that work or at the very least, demonstrate how you think outside of what’s requested. Don’t tell me you won’t do this until you get paid for it. That relegates you to “order taker” status and makes you less of a proactive thinker.

Or let’s turn the focus inward. Fill the time with additional new business efforts. Use it to work on your own agency’s self-promotion, which is never, EVER considered slacking off.

Remember, it’s not about speed. If you’re feeling like your team has no margin for error as you’re churning and burning, that’s not efficiency. That’s about speed and turning your agency into a factory. I don’t think there’s much value in being the speed demon of agencies. But there is tremendous value in being the agency of doing things smarter to achieve financial goals faster – even if it’s a matter of hours. I’m talking about understanding what you absolutely need to deliver the kind of product you and the client can be happy with in the most sensible amount of time.

For example, I once told a client that we’d have the ads done to her by “end of day.” But her end of day was different from my end of day. Her end of day was around 3:00pm because she had family obligations at home. To make her happy and meet our goals, we needed to adjust by about four hours to buffer in time for her to review the work and make any possible revisions. She didn’t need to sit with it forever. By getting that work done and wrapped well before 3:00pm, it allowed our managers to think about new business tactics, our designers to check out inspirational websites, even for us to take a break for darts. So you never know the positives that can impact not only your client relations but internal relations.

Point being that if you act like that cabbie who surprised me and choose the route of efficiency over milking each project, you may get your client faster to where they want to go and get yourself onto the next project that much faster. If you’re worried about how you’re going to fill the space with work, that’s a new business issue you needed to address a long time ago anyway. In that event, maybe you ought to give someone like Steve Congdon at Thunderclap a call. If it’s an operational flow issue, that would be Rob Jager at HedgeHog Consulting.

What other excuses do you have for not getting to your best ideas more efficiently?