Friday, February 01, 2013

Doing my part for environmentalism, too....

This week we became an electronic household in one other area - newspapers.   Both papers (the WSJ and the Sacramento Bee) now will only come electronically.   I've read the WSJ electronic edition for several years.   It is probably one of the best implementations of an electronic paper I have seen.

We decided to go electronic for a couple of reasons.   First, the pile of papers that accumulates over a week is huge.   Some people revel in it.  We did not.   Second, in spite of deteriorating quality, the Bee chose to raise its prices significantly this year by adding in a digital subscription to its annual price.   When given the option between taking a paper we are not very fond of at a higher price or taking the electronic edition only - it was an easy choice.

There are some major differences between the two subscriptions.   Let's deal with the problems first.  When I first thought about going electronic on the WSJ, I called their subscription office and inquired about the cost of an electronic subscription.   They quoted me a price.   But when I asked about what it would cost for the electronic and print editions together, with my applicable discounts, the price was exactly the same.   So what I am now forced to do is to suspend home delivery once every sixty days.

The Bee uses a a software platform called Olive.   On the Olive website it intones newspapers to "create new revenue streams using your existing content."   Evidently, if I am an example of what happens using their software, the claim is not accurate.   From my perspective the underlying platform is at best, clunky.  There is no underlying understanding of the different nature of a digital read.   And at least at this point, there is no digital content beyond an image of the print edition.  Olive's implementation is microfiche brought up to date.  From my perspective, not very inventive.

There are good things about both papers, besides the reduction in clutter.  The WSJ adds a lot of content over the day and also has a series of video interviews that are often interesting and quick.  It is a mixture between TV news and print news.   They also add a lot of extra photos and graphics.   The Bee edition is quite readable and the navigation between sections is good.  But clearly, if the Bee wants to stay in this business (or indeed stay in business), it needs to step up its game a bit.  In both settings, I get the content in a more efficient way, that I can get to anywhere I have an internet connection without the newsprint on my fingers.

In the late 1990s I was at a monetary conference in Mexico where the late editor of the WSJ, Bob Bartley, was a participant.   As we were going to lunch one day, I told him that I liked the electronic edition and wondered whether it was costing them revenue.  He looked at me and said, "do you still take the print edition?" I said "Yes."   He said, "Then we are making $40 a year off you that we did not before."  That may have been true then, but it is clearly not true now.

I think I understand the very tough nature of the Newspaper business today.   At one point a WSJ person that I work with claimed that the cost of delivering the home edition amounted to 35¢ per day.  If that is true, the revenues derived from my subscription largely would consume the delivery cost.   That does not sound like a very good economic model (even if you assume that the advertising revenue and other spiffs continue).   But like many other industries, the news business is beset by the challenge to innovate or disappear.   In my view, while I read a lot of bloggers, even with the obvious biases of many papers, I still prefer to have a vibrant press.

1 comment:

Cousin Greg said...

Uncle Jon,

I wonder what other businesses are in an innovate or disappear space these days, and which things we learn from one industry can be applied in another? I'm biased in my interest towards the church world, which I perceive to be in that space, so am most curious about how the adaptations of businesses that survive innovate-or-die situations can be translated, but the larger question is still interesting. Surely, other business over time have faced this situation. How were the survivors successful?

Cousin Greg