Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Time to bring back a P.M. news product

Back in 1940, 80% of the 1,877 of the daily newspapers in the United States were published on the afternoon cycle, meaning that editions were printed some time prior to noon for delivery to consumers coming home from work. And it was good.

By 2000, 52% of the nation’s 1,480 newspapers were publishing on the morning cycle to accommodate people who worked later, had longer commutes and were more interested in watching TV than reading a paper when they got home from work. And things were still pretty good.

In 2009, according to the latest statistics published by the Newspaper Association of America, 62% of the remaining 1,387 newspapers were produced overnight for delivery around 6 a.m. But things lately have not been very good, with newspaper circulation down by a third in the last 20 years.

Now, a bit of interesting market research suggests that going back to an evening news product may be one way for newspaper publishers to build new audiences and revenues. But the evening product of the 21st Century would be delivered on mobile and tablet platforms, not in print.

Here’s why a Nightly eNews product could hit the spot:

Newspapers today face a Bermuda Quadrangle of competition in the hour (or less) around 8 a.m. when people check their smart phones, their computers, their iPads, and their Facebook accounts to see what the day holds in store.

In research released earlier this year, ComScore, the digital ratings service, found that mobile phone, computer and tablet use spikes in the morning, as consumers get ready for work. Separately, Dan Zarrella, a social-media marketing researcher, found that the early-morning action on Facebook rivals the spike in activity the site experiences in the after-dinner hours.

Newspapers unfortunately operate at a disadvantage in the battle for early-morning mindshare.

Unlike all other competitors, newspapers don't ring, beep, buzz, tweet, friend or vibrate to get your attention. Papers also contain generic information that is less mission-critical to most individuals than, say, an email from the boss, a tempting GroupOn offer or a picture of your cousin’s new baby. All too often, the trusty print product piles up, mostly unread, until the consumer finally cancels her subscription.

Electronic intrusions may not be as much of a problem with the older-than-50 readers who represent about half of newspaper readership as they are with the sub-50 cohort. But young’uns are the audience that publishers have to acquire if they hope to have a future. Given the un-affinity most young consumers have for print, newspapers are going to have to find another way to reach them.

Fortunately, the ComScore research contains a hopeful nugget. The company found that iPad use rises considerably during the after-dinner hours, when consumers evidently make time to catch up on articles they have cached or bookmarked during the day.

Newspapers can take advantage of the quiet time consumers apparently set aside for reading by publishing products delivered on the mobile and tablet platforms in the hours between roughly 6 and 8 p.m.

The Nightly eNews product would contain a certain amount of standard newspaper fare, including late-breaking news, a wrap-up of the day’s major headlines, weather, sports scores and stock market news. But it also should be a tool for getting the most out of life, including:

:: Community calendar, featuring things to do and places to go – for you and your kids.

:: Hot picks for movies, music and television shows.

:: Daily deals and shopping tips.

:: Advertising and prominent promotions for upcoming features in the daily and Sunday print editions.

Packaging is just as crucial as content. Long, windy and gray stories must give way to brief, engaging content that is easily downloaded and consumed on a smart phone or tablet. At-a-glance graphics and quick video clips should replace words as much as possible. Displays should be held to a single screen that can be read conveniently on a mobile gizmo held in the landscape position.

There have to be places to comment, upload user-generated content and – very significantly – share articles with friends.

Up for grabs is whether this should be a free or subscription-only product. Free most certainly is the course of least resistance but some publishers may be bold enough to try to sell subscriptions at something like the 99 cents that The Daily is charging for weekly access to its iPad app.

Even if the product is offered free, however, publishers should require users to register (directly with the publisher or via Facebook or Google), so they can begin profiling the location, preferences and behavior of users. (Make sure your privacy statement matches the policy you pursue.)

For a guy who started on an evening newspaper whose offices were turned into a café when it went out of business, it’s fun to see how everything old is starting to look new again.

© 2011 Editor & Publisher


Blogger ef200@verizon.net said...

Yes. Absolutely. Having started out 35 years ago on an afternoon paper that converted to all-day publication and later to a strictly AM, I've been saying this for years. Finally, there's someonme who doesn't think I'm crazy.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Wow it seems like you were reading from the iPad strategy Playbook that the Orange County Register is pursuing.

7:59 PM  
Blogger M said...

This certainly provides a fresher newspaper to the high percentage of people who read their morning newspaper late in the day. It also allows West Coast newspapers the opportunity to provide very fresh news from D.C. and the East on their cycle. Changing reading habits for the morning readers, especially commuters and retirees will be a challenge

8:18 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

Dayparting content to match reader usage preferences is exactly the right approach.

Next newspapers need to match the daypart to the medium that is best able to deliver that content.

What I like about this approach is that it starts from what users actually do instead of proceeding from what newspapers feel they do best.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Gary O'Brien said...

Alan, this is the article about the OCR iPad strategy:


Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea, glad they are executing it. I suspect the articles that will interest those readers in that time slot will be more feature-oriented, entertainment, etc., and not about news *unless* it is breaking news. This means a newsroom should be primed and ready to cover events live in this time frame, very much like a television station.

5:47 PM  
Blogger FredMark said...

If you are publishing to a tablet, why does there have to be a firm deadline at all? Why not just post as stories are finished? By naming the product a "morning" or "evening" product, aren't we kind of reverting back to a print-centric view of distribution?

11:13 PM  

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