The failure of the supermarket model of publishing

Fascinating, thought-provoking piece – another of those ones you come away from thinking “damn, that’s so obvious – why didn’t I make the connection before?” A few highlights:

Quality doesn’t mean popularity:

every single newspaper that I talk with. They are saying the same thing, which is that their journalistic work is top of the line and amazing. The problem is ‘only’ with the secondary thing of how it is presented to the reader.

And we have been hearing this for the past five to ten years, and yet the problem still remains. There is a complete and total blind spot in the newspaper industry that, just maybe, part of the problem is also the journalism itself.

Instead, they move the problem out of the editorial room, and into separate and isolated ‘innovation teams’… who are then charged with coming up with ideas for how to reformat their existing journalistic product in a digital way.

But let me ask you this. If The NYT is ‘winning at journalism‘, why is its readership falling significantly? If their daily report is smart and engaging, why are they failing to get its journalism to its readers?

If its product is ‘the world’s best journalism‘, why does it have a problem growing its audience?

Newspapers (and all-in-one-place sites) are an outdated concept:

No matter how hard they try, supermarkets with a mass-market/low-relevancy appeal will never appear on a list of the most ‘engaging brands’, or on list of brands that people love.

And this is the essence of the trouble newspapers are facing today. It’s not that we now live in a digital world, and that we are behaving in a different way. It’s that your editorial focus is to be the supermarket of news.

The New York Times is publishing 300 new articles every single day, and in their Innovation Report they discuss how to surface even more from their archives. This is the Walmart business model.

The problem with this model is that supermarkets only work when visiting the individual brands is too hard to do. That’s why we go to supermarkets. In the physical world, visiting 40 different stores just to get your groceries would take forever, so we prefer to only go to one place, the supermarket, where we can get everything… even if most of the other products there aren’t what we need.

It’s the same with how print newspapers used to work. We needed this one place to go because it was too hard to get news from multiple sources.

But on the internet, we have solved this problem. You can follow as many sources as you want, and it’s as easy to visit 1000 different sites as it is to just visit one. Everything is just one click away. In fact, that’s how people use social media. It’s all about the links.

One of clearest examples of this is how Washington Post is absolutely failing to engage people on YouTube. Every single day, they are posting a bunch of news videos about random things. Each video is well made (great production quality), but there is no editorial focus.

The result is this:

quality3

Here we have a large US newspaper that is barely reaching any people when it uploads a video to YouTube. And it’s not that the videos are uninteresting. There is one about iPhone cases that you can buy at the 9/11 museum (and the controversy of that), with only 687 views. There is a motivational speech (usually a popular thing to post on YouTube), with only 819 views. We have social tactics, like “5 awkward political fundraising moments”, with only 101 views.

Then we have a video by the super-popular George Takei that we all know from Star Trek. This is a person with millions of fans, but his video on Washington Post only attracted 844 views… in two weeks! If this had been posted by any Star Trek focused channel, this very same video would have reached 50,000 views, easy!

What the Washington Post is doing can only be described as a complete and total failure. It cannot get any worse than this.