Keeping Newspapers from Going the Route of the Milkman

Today, I picked my newspaper up off the lawn and brought it in to my house to read with my coffee.  I didn’t have to take my daughter to school because of President’s Day, so I came back inside my house.

From all indications, this ritual is on the road to extinction.   Many reports predict that all newspapers will transform to on-line versions where readers can see the content on a PC, mobile device, tablet, cell phone, or other electronic piece.  Indeed, some newspapers have already gone that route, in the midst of many others folding.

Many of you may not be old enough to remember the milkman.  When I was little, competing dairies would deliver two bottles of milk, ice cream, butter, and other goods directly to your door.   Only one service still does that today, Schwann’s, and it has added many other food items and ready-to-eat meals in order to be profitable.   If we don’t intervene, the delivery of daily print newspapers will go the way of the milkman.

This does not have to be the case!  I am reminded in the now-classic work by Jim Collins, Good-to-Great, where he discusses the Hedgehog Concept.  Of the three components, one is “understanding the denominator that drives your economic engine.”  Or in other words,  what is it that keeps your lights turned on? 

For newspapers, this is not subscriptions.  The number of subscribers to daily and weekend newspapers continues to dwindle nationwide.  If the denominator were subscribers, print newspapers would be history. 

Clearly, the  economic factor is advertising.  As long as companies are willing to advertise in print editions of papers, we will still have them produced and delivered. 

If you love your paper delivered to your door, if you like picking it up off the lawn and taking it with you when you leave in the morning, the key is not to encourage your friends and co-workers to subscribe.  Rather, it is to frequent the advertisers who invest in the paper with your business, and further, to let them know that the ad they placed in the paper influenced your buying decision.  You can say at Macy’s, “I want to see the dress you advertised in the paper on Sunday,” which reinforces that is how you got there. 

The simplest way to reinforce print advertising is to use the coupons that businesses pay for to print, giving you discounts or tw0-for-one purchases.  If customers don’t use them, advertisers will stop paying for the newspapers to print them.  And, when advertisers stop paying for printing, that will turn out the lights for papers.

Think about that.  Do you really want a world where there are no print newspapers?  Where everyone stares at a cell phone or tablet on the bus?  Where you can’t sneak a peek at a headline and make a mental note to find more about it later?  Where you eat cereal with your spoon in one hand and your stylus in the other?  Where you have to send a link to a friend instead of clipping an article with a handwritte note and mailing it?  Really – do you also appreciate receiving e-Cards? 

Not me.  I’ve got my coupons from Saturday’s and Sunday’s paper.  I’m ready to turn them in this week.  I want to support print editions. 

The good news is that there are plenty of households that still subscribe to physical newspapers.  Many homes on my street, including me, have more than one paper thrown and waiting for them each day.  I also take the print edition of the Wall Street Journal.   We are not starting from a base of zero. 

If enough people want to keep papers printed, we can do that.  It is just a decision that enough of us need to make and want to do.

How about you?  Let’s talk about it really soon!




3 thoughts on “Keeping Newspapers from Going the Route of the Milkman

  1. Vishal Kulshrestha

    Morning Prof’ Karl:
    This is indeed a hearty sum up of the skewed justification for the newspaper print media ( not “news”-paper but “coupons and fliers”-paper in the true sense)
    However, I beg to differ, and I owe it partly to my background and career being in the IT world and partly to my observance. Coupons and rebates are practically on every device we touch.
    I have been to stores and restaurants throughout the metroplex which are more than happy to accept / scan the bar code right off the hand-held device screens and give us our coveted rebates.

    Now don’t get me wrong – I would, any day, prefer a H4 lead pencil and a real newspaper to do my Sunday morning crossword with my coffee, but that is probably not going to drive the business.

    With the popularity, availability and pace of penetration of hand-held electronic media it is just a matter of a few short years. Ironically, the people who cannot afford the technology, will probably have no use for the coupons either. The ‘denominator’ so-to-say will not have as much traction as we would like it to have.

    We do see papers tossed in front lawns, but it is discouraging to see them pile up there only to be collected every few days for thrash.

    However, there is very much a niche, as not everyone is tech savvy ( by habit or budget ).. but that species is on the decline, while environmentalist are rejoicing at the use of less papers and save the rain forests.

    So if not an immediate exodus, and if not a steady decline, there is certainly no evident growth potential in the printed media.

    I would love to go over in detail and discuss / defend our respective views.

  2. kjkrayer Post author

    From Rob Johnson – posted on Facebook:

    Karl, I may be unusual however I only get my news from the Internet (BBC, Fox, CNN, Google and TWSJ on-line). I’ve grown tired of the media bias (from both sides) and quite honestly have lost faith in the media to report stories fairly.

    I get our coupons on-line or they are delivered in the mail.

  3. Doug Caldwell (@Doug_Caldwell)

    Way back when in the last century, I sold newspapers once a week on the street corner in CT. So reading the daily newspaper goes along with my ink stained hands every morning at home. While traveling I keep up with the Dallas Morning News stories by downloading to my iPad in the morning and reading later. So I like both versions of the news…for now.


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