McGuire on Media

Newspapers need to consider what they deliver when

Jon Fine’s prediction that at least one large newspaper will begin publishing less than seven days a week next year intrigued me.

I would be far more comfortable with that solution than a continued whittling away at news gathering resources, but if there was simple way to do it I think it would have been done by now. Fine suggested papers would drop the Saturday paper.  There’s a logic to that, and many European papers do something similar. The problem here in the states is that for some the Saturday paper is a real dog, while other newspapers remain quite healthy on Saturday. Here in Phoenix the Arizona Republic appears to a reader to still do well with auto dealer advertising. Friday is also a very good news day, and as long as newspapers pretend that matters to them, the Saturday paper is a bad choice to drop.

The edition that barks the loudest for most newspapers is the Monday paper. Advertising on Mondays has been so weak newspapers have attempted to lure advertisers with low rates, but then when the ads don’t draw customers, advertisers get bitter. The run of Sunday news is very slow, so slow, a lot of news makers manipulate announcements for Sunday afternoon to get better play. 

The problem with dropping Monday has always been sports.  Monday is a big sports paper and you would probably create a lot of very ticked off readers.  I have also heard from some editors that when they have looked at dropping an edition or two the fixed production costs and scheduling rules have made the savings much smaller than anybody imagined.

I think Fine sees the right problem, but the solution needs to be more sophisticated.  I think newspapers need to be seven days a week, but they need to stop trying to be all things to all people every day. The Saturday paper’s content could focus on breaking news, business and sports and serve as a solid wrap for auto dealers. The Monday paper could focus on sports and on the week ahead.

Yes, I know the Arizona Republic got hammered when they tried to go to an abbreviated paper on Monday, but I wonder if they went far enough in repackaging that newspaper. Certainly as newspapers consider this direction two of the other "P’s" have to come into play–price and place. Subscription prices may have to adjust. Some papers during the week may cost less and some might be worth more. Some papers should go to every customer and others will have to be targeted.  Sophisticated competition with the web requires better tailoring of the printed product and customers cannot be kept waiting for newspapers to undertake radical change.

As people continue to debate the future of print, I come down on the side of  David Remnick who believes newspapers will be around for a while in some form or another.  The printed newspaper can survive a long time, but I think we need to be more creative about what form they take and that form must be flexible from day to day. Readers are creatures of habit, but habits break. Rather than risking complete alienation by subtracting entire editions let’s consider different forms, formats and styles for different days.