Washington Post? Boston Globe? Jim asked for my opinion. . .

A beau from my way-back machine (still a friend) asked in an email:

What you think of the sales of the Boston Globe and Washington Post for peanuts on the dollar?  How in the hell is Bezos going to make money with the WP? Does he get the rights to the very good Sousa March of the same name?

I’m unqualified when it comes to the Sousa question (there’s a March?), but we all know that Moe do so luv to offer her opinion (I do it for free, so grateful am I for the ‘ask’.)

Here’s how I see it:

It’s a changed world. Big metro dailies need to be reinvented and as for Bezos and The Post, I think he’s the guy to do it. WaPo and the Globe have been shrinking for years like so many others. They’ve lost classified, real estate, and car ads to online. The one thing that isn’t going to happen again is growth – in size, in advertising and eventually in circulation – although the Post and the NYT and WSJ continue to reign supreme in readership because they all excel in an internet proof-product – excellent substantive reporting.

So I think at least with the Post, the goal is to find a revenue stream to support that core product and not fiddle with it. Everything else has to be reinvented. And who better to do it than Bezos who literally invented how to actually make big money online. Since he’s an individual owner – which was the tradition at the Post – I trust him more than a corp looking for quarterly earnings. He’ll support it for quite a while probably.. Just like Murdock has to support the NY Post and the Moonies have to support the Washington Times (daily circulation 83,000 vs WaPo 1.4million).

Metro dailies are today’s horse and buggies. Not surprisingly though, small weekly or bi-weekly local papers are doing very well. Very very well, which is probably why Buffet just bought a bunch of ‘em.  Their operating cost are low – no need for out of town bureaus for instance. Or financing investigative reporting. As long as they cover city hall, births, deaths and school pageants, they’ve got it covered. Plus advertising is pretty cheap.

I don’t know much about the Globe except that again, this is a single owner – one already invested in the community. And also, I think that sale is an example of how the NY Times by selling it is sharpening its focus on protecting its flagship paper. They’ve been selling ‘Times Group’ papers for a while.

So I think Bezos can find a way to keep up readership while developing that reliable revenue stream with paid online access. The Times and WSJ are already doing that very successfully.  And MOST importantly, he’ll usher the paper into the age of the mobile device because he also understands the future.

And that’s what I think.

18 responses to “Washington Post? Boston Globe? Jim asked for my opinion. . .

  1. I think it is good news. The Washington Post, once a great paper, has in recent years become crap. I just wish Bezos’d get rid of the current editor. Hopefully, she has a very short contract.

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  2. But is there a Boston Globe March???

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  3. John Henry bought the Boston Globe for $70 million. Also, he ended up getting the Worcester, MA Telegraph & Gazette, and some smaller newspapers. Back in the mid-nineties, when the NYT bought the Globe, the price was 1 billion dollars. John Henry also owns a racing team, and a Liverpool soccer team, the Boston Red Sox and NESN (New England Sports Network).

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  4. Going fully online is their only real hope. It’s the only thing looking bright(ish) for the NY Times. The WSJ is a special case since they have access to the Newscorp private wire service and, hence, can run stories that others aren’t running.

    Frankly, I don’t think it’ll be enough. Print news is dead. It suicided when they dropped local reporting in favor of regurgitating wire service stories.

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    • jonolan – as you know all papers have used the wires for probalby 70-80 years. Nothing wrong with that. Of course, they do a lot more now because few of them can support the reporting staffs they used to have. My own daily used to have bureaus in Miami and Tampa and stringers thorughout the state. No more. Only bureau is Tallahassee.

      I think print will survive for a while and meanwhile the websites will mirror anything that’s in the paper and have more content as well. So I don’t know how long . . . but yeah, the presses will be shutting down eventually.

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      • Using wire services is good; doing little else but regurgitating the wires and failing to provide any differentiators between outlets is, in my opinion, what killed print news. And it was a death spiral, feeding on itself as they dropped more and more local reporting and staff to save money lost due to dropping sales.

        Online news will, I think, keep the companies alive in some form, but only because the costs are so much lower.

        On the bright side, that same lower entry fee means that local / alternative online “newspapers” are much more possible now. Hell! for approx, $25K I could even due full HD video reporting streamed live to a website. TVUPack for the win!!!!!

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        • I agree that the news content in papers has gotten much thinner, but no way is that what’s killing (killed?) print. It’s the loss of revenue to the internet. Classified, cars and real estate (especially classified) are gone – that’s the death sentence.

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          • Chicken or Egg, Moe? Content loss killing subscriptions which, in turn, kills advertisers or vise versa?

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            • Vise versa. Advertising loss slashed revenue that supported news operations. That led to a decline in quality of news operation (and quantity of news), which ultimately leads to a loss of existing subscribers, while those who at one time would have become new subscribers (the young) are already accustomed to getting their info online.

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              • My experience tells me otherwise but, admittedly, it’s anecdotal and hence suspect. I’ve never seen an advertiser that kept internet and print marketing in the same budget bucket or even department. Also, internet advertising is small potatoes cost-wise compared to print or television. It’s also “known” to have a piss-poor conversion rate.

                Then again, either way causation-wise, it turned into a death spiral due to a classic positive feedback reaction.

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                • I think you know I spent most of my working life in publishing and still read a lot of the trade press. But in the last 15 years I was on the other side, and was buying advertising (single budget). At first it was all newspaper because those had the widest reach. But the internet changed everything for us.

                  Some anecdotes from me: A big factor in who it changed was our ability to build digital databases and do eblasts and use our own website as a promotion/sales vehicle. And the cross linking from other websites is phoenominally successful. Tourist promotions, hotel sites, arts and entertainment sites – all could drive business to our theatre and that is without advertising with them because if we did better, so did they.

                  And before, direct marketing for us meant paying for paper, printing and postage, which we self limited because of budget constraints. Now we reach those people constantly and can filter our target group in ways that only vendors could do before.

                  When I started working at the theatre in ’97, I had a print ad budget of over $30K, even as the theatre at that time was much smaller. My non ad promo budget was much smaller because it was all about the daily newspaper. Today, the theatre is about 4X the size it was then yet their print ad expenditures are budgeted at about 30% of ’97′s.

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  5. I’m glad it was Bezos. He’ll know how to drag the excellent paper into the 21st Century, probably with some innovation the others haven’t thought of yet. Be a shame to lose the print edition, but it definitely has to change to keep alive. As you said “horse and buggy”, print – old news.

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