Today people can publish anything for free online, including ads. That means that the act of publishing is not really what they’re paying a newspaper for, or anyone for that matter. They’re paying to get their message out to a specific audience.
A specific audience is different from “the largest audience possible,” which is what our traditional advertising models are still based on. Advertisers know they can get a better and more efficient deal than that, as pay-per-performance tools are training them to spend the least total amount for the smallest targeted audience necessary to sell their stuff. I think our inability to deliver small targeted audiences is a significant reason behind why newspaper Classifieds aren’t selling as well as they used to.
So the question we should ask ourselves is what do we have locally that we can tap into that’s similar to Google search terms? One idea we’re exploring in Bakersfield is the thousands of tags in our social networking tools, plus search terms, plus anything else that we can break down to the individual. When you tie those “chunks” to something like an inbox, things start to get interesting. And we also think we can do more to break down print audiences by giving niche print publishing tools to our community, which is what our Knight News Challenge project “Printcasting” is about (shameless plug: learn more at www.printcasting.com).
Final point: just because it’s free to publish doesn’t mean that there’s no money to be made. Just look at Google. When you place a Google AdWord you’re basically paying for promotion to a niche audience that’s looking for something similar to what you sell. We charge people to publish today, but they will increasingly expect to only pay for promotion.
Dan Pacheco is an online product manager who specializes in social media. Currently he is managing the Bakersfield Californian’s Printcasting initiative, a two-year, $837,000 Knight News Challenge project.