Read the average blog about the newspaper industry and this business is headed the way of S & H Green Stamps and Kodachrome film — into history’s scrap heap.
Consumers are digital and mobile, says the cry, so it’s time we abandoned the print product, put everything on the Web, throw up a paywall and produce an app.
With these moves, we only need hire reporters and sales reps, along with a few computer types, to keep this enterprise up and running.
The rest of those folks we use to have on the payroll — like circulation and production types — are off the island.
Oh. One more thing. If we don’t make these changes now, we’re dead.
That’s the thinking of the newspaper industry, not only in the blogosphere but also among some of the industry’s leading executives.
The problem is that many of these alleged panaceas come with their own problems.
Here’s a solution, based on the one tactic that was highlighted in spades by the recent presidential campaign.
The ground game, said political consultants of all stripes, is the one, true way they were able to reach out to voters and, in some cases, made sure their supporters voted.
Romney operative Jeff Sili, profiled in the Financial Times during the closing days of the campaign, told the paper that he not only knew the politics of the people in the part of Virginia for which he was responsible, but he also knew the topography and, on election day, made sure voters went to the polls.
“You can shift the electorate two-three points in your favor with a good field operation,” Jim Ross, a Democratic political consultant in San Francisco, told me.
Imagine how newspapers could benefit if their circulation executives knew their consumers the way Sili and Ross knew their voters.
Think of how that knowledge could be used to sway marketers to spend their advertising dollars in newspapers instead of direct-mail. Or what a 3 percent increase would mean to print circulation revenues.
So if political consultants understand the ground campaign’s value — by connecting with voters face to face — why does this insight escape the newspaper industry?
Because the process required is inefficient, it’s messy, it’s expensive, and besides, don’t consumers already know how important you are?
That kind of response, as any savvy politician knows, ends careers.
“I have been involved in several campaigns where our field operation won the election for us,” Ross said.
Those are words newspaper execs should keep in mind when contemplating the value of the circulation department.
Here’s another factor to keep in mind. Many websites collect consumer data and track consumers’ digital habits. The ability to monitor consumers’ behavior is the underlying technology, and supposed benefit, underpinning most major sites — from Google to Facebook.
Well, guess what. People don’t like to be tracked.
In a recent discussion, Chris Hoofnagle, a professor at the University of California’s School of Law and the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, told me that only about 2 percent of men and women on any website click the ads. The vast majority, he said, don’t click any ad banner because they refuse to be tracked.
Even Microsoft has acknowledged the shifting privacy landscape, making Do-Not-Track the default setting within its recently released Internet Explorer 10.
If supporting consumers’ desires to retain their privacy isn’t a reason to promote print advertising, then what is? Jumble puzzle creator David Hoyt, who’s created many successful games, tells me he’s received wonderful feedback about the app of his newest board game, Word Winder.
“But how do we get it promoted,” asked David when we spoke recently.
The old-fashioned way — through individual sales of the game at brick and mortar stores, I said.
If there’s any one thing that’s true it’s this: Today’s consumers are just like the ones in the last century — they want to be considered important and they like their privacy.
Get to know them!
Contact Doug Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.