Friday, March 5, 2010

A newspaper that chips away at its product's value

I won't name names but a daily newpaper which publishes in the community in which I live decided with today's issue to no longer list where local bands are playing in its Friday entertainment section. Now I know these folks making the decisions - a couple middle-age guys (like me) - aren't musicians (like me), nor do they probably ever venture inside a local tavern or club (unlike me) to see a favorite act. So, in an attempt to make a few coins, they started charging bars, restaurants, et al. to list bands. To their credit they got six businesses to pay (I suspect their regular advertisers get the listing for free) but many of the places that normally appeared in this space are gone.

Now my wife and I are big local music fans and we were trying to figure out where we are going tonight - we usually see one local act a week, though some weeks it might be two. (We got nearly all of our information on where to go from this newspaper.) Presented with this dilemma, it took me all of a few minutes to find a work-around to get the info we needed. Most of the best venues for local music all have Facebook pages so I just signed up as a "fan" and their band listings, dinners specials, etc. are now streaming into my Facebook account. Those businesses that don't have Facebook pages will no doubt reach out in the coming months as their customers urge them to communicate the information in new ways.

This move diminished the value of this newspaper for me. It didn't cause me to cancel my subscription but it did give me pause to consider what I get for my money.

A few predictions:
- Other readers - music fans - had the same reaction I did. This calendar is no longer a source they can rely on for complete info in the market. They will use Facebook, Metroland, the Times Union, a local weekly newspaper (The Chronicle) or another outlet to get this info going foward, and they will be a tad bitter their daily newspaper doesn't deliver this information to their doorstep.
- Some bar, nightclub and restaurant owners/managers will be ticked off as well. They may have had to cut back on advertising for seasonal reasons, or because cash flow is slow, and they will be reluctant to come back when they might normally do so. All it takes is the loss of one or two display advertisers to eliminate all the gains from paid listings.
- I suspect local musicians - who have no budgets to advertise - will be angry at the slight. These readers are seeing themselves reflected less and less in the pages of this publication, which has cut back on its local music coverage as well.
- I would bet that those few businesses who do buy these listings - now or in the near future - will stop doing so within six months. Someone - a customer or employee - will comment on the changes and confirm their own suspicion that this "marketplace" has limited value because it is incomplete.

Media consumers want information packaged how they want it and delivered when they want. For me, there is no turning back as either a publisher or as a consumer.

1 comment:

  1. It's very sad -- the American people just don't understand the value of information filtered by informed editorial voice.

    I understand why newspapers -- historical providers of that "informed editorial voice" are struggling in the face of declining readership and the inexorable pressure of the internet.

    Here's hoping for all of us, that newspapers find a workable formula soon -- that they find a way to continue to provide us with thoughtful editorial content, while making a reasonable profit for doing so.

    Paul Grupp