Five Online Monetization Ideas for Newspapers

BIg-city newspapers that are still relying on ad sales and subscriptions to pay for their giant printing presses and related salaries are only delaying the inevitable closure of said newspaper. (Dailies in smaller cities and the small-town weeklies still seem to be doing well, since they cover local news, which the big city papers are ignoring.)

Newspapers need to realize ink on paper is not the only way to deliver news.

But if the big city newspapers were to start rethinking their content delivery methods, they might be able to start generating some additional income. Here are five ideas newspapers could use to increase readership and grow revenue.

1. Hop On The Mobile Bandwagon

Earlier this month, Mashable reported on a survey that said:

U.S. smartphone owners are increasingly turning to mobile to access breaking news over other media, including newspapers, TV and desktop web browsers.

In a survey of 300,000 mobile consumers, 88% of whom owned a device running one the five most popular smartphone operating systems, more than 30% said that mobile is the “most important medium” to access breaking news, narrowly followed by desktop web browsers (29%), television (21%) and newspapers (3%).

That’s because online news is beating traditional media to breaking the news.

If a story breaks at 10:17 in the morning, I could watch it on the noon news (except I’m at the office), the 5:00 news (except I’m in the car), the 6:00 news (but I’m eating dinner), or the 11:00 news (13 hours later). I could also read about it in the newspaper at 6:30 am, 20 hours later.

Or I could read about it on my mobile phone by 10:18.

A lot of newspapers are still struggling with website-based delivery, and people have already moved on to the next channel. The newspapers that adopt a breaking news strategy with their online content can get additional readers via their mobile sites, and sell ad space on those sites.

2. Create Tablet-Only Content

iPad-owning newshounds all clapped their hands and went “squeeeeeee!” when they heard News Corp. was launching an iPad-only newspaper. The version costs $.99 per edition, and will come out on a daily basis. Murdoch hopes to win just 5% of the 40 million iPad owners (2 million people), which at $.99 per edition is $2 million per day.

While a local paper is going to have trouble drawing in 2 million readers on tablets, they should start exploring the possibility of a tablet-based news delivery system. Whether it’s audio and video content (see below) that’s playable on a tablet, tablet-only stories, or even an entire publication dedicated to tablets, the explosive growth of tablets mean that newspapers need to pay attention to a possible new delivery method.

3. Use Video and Audio Podcasts

I’ve been trying out Stitcher lately, a podcast delivery app for my Android. I plug it into the AUX jack on my car, and listen to whatever I’ve selected — a couple of short podcasts from Indiana University, and the Paul & Tom Show (Paul Poteet and Tom Davis).

This got me to thinking: I would love to hear a daily 15- or even 30-minute regional news broadcast. The closest I can get is the 9 minutes my local NPR station devotes to city news, including the 5 minutes they devote to the Indiana business news program.

So who says newspapers have to report news on paper? Why can’t they create video and audio content?

What if a newspaper started producing audio content where they did 15 or 30 minute daily news programs available via Stitcher or iTunes or another mobile delivery system? Drop in three commercial slots, and treat it like a real news program. Devote as much or as little time to a story as you want, so if a program runs 5 minutes long, that’s fine. There are no restraints on a podcast length the same way there are with a radio show, so running long or running short by a couple minutes is no big deal.

The Indianapolis Star will occasionally do online news videos to supplement their stories. I would love to see more papers doing this as well, especially if the videos are optimized for mobile use. With a good digital camera and a green screen backdrop, newspapers could start generating news videos for less than a one-time cost of $10,000, and give their news interns and new writers something to do. Sell ad space before and after each video, with a corresponding ad on the web page’s sidebar.

4. Locally-Produced Content

My friend, Bob, was the digital editor for the Indy Star a few years ago. They hired local bloggers to write stories about their communities and neighborhoods for online consumption. They paid $5 per post at 3 posts per week, and sold ad space for the locally-produced blogs. The digital version made $1 million per year.

This had several benefits for the paper:

  • Hyperlocal content that appealed to people in those areas of town. The regular print paper didn’t have room these posts, but they were still able to reach readers
  • Readers who wanted to read the local content were directed to the online paper, which helped them sell more ads.
  • The paper didn’t have to pay full-time writers to write the articles. Even at $25,000 for a fresh-out-of-college writer, that’s still $12.50 per hour. And it would take 1 – 3 hours to write a 300 word article. By paying a local blogger $5 per post, they’re saving anywhere from $7.50 – $32.50 per article.

5. Targeted Ads a la Facebook and Google AdWords

This falls under the Technology I’d Like To See heading: If I read an online newspaper, I would be willing to provide them with basic information about my name, age, where I live, etc., so they can deliver targeted ads to me based on my demographics, like Facebook does. However, I would also like to see ads based on the stories I’m reading, like Google’s AdWords and Pay Per Click, which they currently do.

But what would be really cool is to deliver ads to me that are a combination of both my demographics and the stories I’m reading.

For example, if I’m reading a story about a fire in another part of town, there are any number of ads that could be served up: fire insurance, fire protection, alarm systems, document storage, etc. But the paper would also know that I’m a father of three and have my own home, so they may serve up ads about alarm systems, knowing that I’m most likely to be concerned about my family’s safety (and that I already have insurance as a home owner). But someone who is single and living in an apartment may receive an ad about fire insurance or document storage, and not see the same “protect your family” ad. Reading a story about the car industry may show me an ad for a new family-friendly car, while the single 20-something is going to get an ad for the sports car.

While some newspapers are using one or two of these ideas, not every newspaper is doing so, and not every idea is in use at this time. But if newspapers want to survive this continued downward spiral, they’ll start looking to the Internet as their new delivery system now, rather than 10 years from now, when a new young upstart has taken their place, and begun delivering the online content that people have been looking for.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (Flickr)

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    About Erik Deckers

    is the President of Professional Blog Service, a ghost blogging and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He has been blogging since 1997, and has been a published writer for more than 26 years. He is a newspaper humor columnist, appearing in 10 papers around Indiana, and in The American Reporter. Erik co-authored No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech). His latest co-authored effort, The Owned Media Doctrine, was released in 2013.

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