Newsonomics 2011: The Ken Doctor SNAF Webinar


When the folks behind the SNA Foundation snagged noted author*, veteran editor and industry consultant Ken Doctor as a webinar presenter to discuss the Economics of News as we head into 2011, they knew they had scored a top notch thinker and news media analyst. What they didn’t realize is that Doctor would attract the largest audience in SNAF webinar history and that he would share such a valuable trove of intelligent insights, data and tips for moving into the next decade of the Digital Age.

The late October webinar, entitled Leading a Newsroom in the Digital Age: Newsonomics 2011, attracted close to 200 registrants and of those who attended and took the post-webinar survey, nearly 9 in 10 rated the presentation as very good or excellent. According to one audience member, Doctor’s sweeping update on the current state of Newsonomics, content competitors and rapidly changing technological opportunities helped underscore the urgency in making future plans and connecting with local bloggers.

Doctor is a man on the move – shortly after the webinar, he departed for Singapore to, among other things, meet with the local press; he’ll be traveling to Germany at Thanksgiving for business sessions with Rhineland publishers; and soon thereafter, he’ll be meeting with journalists in Quebec. To say that the SNA Foundation is grateful to Doctor for his time and insights for our webinar is to put it mildly.

The audience was treated to many lessons including a comprehensive summary of who’s doing what in the news business, the direction that paying for content is moving (and there’s definite movement underway), how editors as content brokers is an increasingly important concept to ‘Newsonomics’, and Doctor’s thinking on why the tablet provides an excellent ‘do-over’ opportunity for local news publishers.

If you missed the webinar, fear not. You can access the archived recording and hear from Ken Doctor yourself. And, we will present highlights in this two-part article series.

Who’s Doing What In Local News?
Ken Doctor’s presentation was fast paced and expansive, and one segment of his presentation talked about local content websites. New, non-newspaper local content providers are both diverse and growing quickly, said Doctor, who pointed to AOL’s Patch & Investigative News Network as two examples to keep an eye on.

Additionally, strictly local startups abound and TV broadcasters, both national and local, along with public radio all have websites now that increasingly look more like newspaper, text-laden sites.

Doctor also talked about a recently announced and massive public radio initiative. “We’ve seen lots of motion in the public radio world over the last year,” said Doctor. That initiative plans for the formation of an ad hoc ‘alliance for public media’ with huge goals; according to Doctor, the alliance plans to expand regional ‘public media’ news operations to 100 reporters and editors per market (up from the current 12 to 30) in four to six markets and to do it soon. “That’s ‘public radio’ grown into ‘public media,’ meaning that these news operations would be digital-first, text-heavy and video-ready, while porting over the audio from radio,” blogged Doctor. “In other words, not re-purposed ‘radio’ news, but the kind of stand-alone, multi-platform news operations we’re starting to see, as with TBD in Washington, D.C.”

Read the full scoop about this $25 million five-year plan, and why it’s likely to be a reality soon, on Ken Doctor’s Newsonomics blog.

The Two-Legged Business Model
Doctor had much to say on the economy of newspapering in 2010, especially as we head into the next decade. The difficult economic environment for newspaper publishing during the recession has been furthered by the crumbling foundation of the traditional 80-20 (advertising/circulation) business model that served the industry for so long.

But, Doctor argues that what’s old, that two-legged business model, is in fact new again. The revelation that began in the depths of the recession, that reader revenue is needed to sustain costly news operations in the long term, is very much driving new thinking and a distinct movement into paid content models.

Clearly though, the old 80/20 rule is fading as print advertising revenue is reducing and online ad growth and pricing have hit speed bumps. The new two-legged model, with shifting ratios, needs to be viewed as coming from business money; i.e., advertisers, sponsors and underwriters, and from reader money; i.e., subscribers, members, and pay-per-view users.

Paid content’s new shape comes in a variety of forms:

  • Metering-like approaches (examples, Financial Times and New York Times)
  • Pay walls
  • Journalism Online’s Press+ model (getting some traction)
  • Shift to charging for mobile access, especially iPad
  • All-access pricing

All Access Pricing


Publisher Roger Coover of The Stockton Record (CA) recently launched a ‘pay for content’ business model which includes an all access option. Read about it in the November issue of Suburban Publisher (pg. 14) or click here.

Doctor sees a distinct movement to all access pricing, especially for newspapers that have unique proprietary content. With this approach publishers are basically saying to customers ‘you read us however you want, in print, on the web, on tablet, smart phone. For one price, I’ll give you all access.’ “We’re at the beginning of this I think,” says Doctor.

He also pointed out that not every user is a target for paid content; rather, it’s is the top 10-20% of your web audience, the segment that repeatedly accesses your site over the course of a month. These users are the brand aware audience who knows your titles best and has the strongest relationship with you. “Publishers are finally making peace with the notion of ‘fly by’ traffic,” says Doctor, who added that the idea of chasing page views and volume hasn’t done much for revenue.

Retention & Switch
As publishers move into the paid content field, Doctor says their words of the day should be Retention & Switch. Retention is basically the idea of slowing down print circulation loss by giving readers the all access model, letting them have content any way they want it. “And, keeping them as customers of course means being able to keep a stronger print ad base which means better rates,” reminded Doctor to his mostly editorial-based webinar audience.

The Switch part of the equation relates to the people who will switch, over the next 3 to 6 years to tablets (and whatever comes after tablets). And they will be switching says Doctor. There will be a meaningful percentage of print loyalists, who are accustomed to paying for news, and publishers need to establish the notion now that when the switch occurs, those readers will still have to pay for views and news. Doctor called the tablet a ‘do-over’ opportunity for content providers looking to gain revenue from readers.

Unique Content Is King
Doctor contends that it’s the newspapers with unique and proprietary content, covering a breadth of topics, that have the best opportunity for charging for it. He shared his sense that the smaller newspapers will have better outcomes in paid content than the metros, which will have the hardest going because of all of the free content competition.

“My sense is that the smallest newspapers – weeklies and those that have very little competition – are in the same business as the Wall Street Journal,” said Doctor, referencing the WSJ’s successful model of charging for content.

Coming Next
One of the webinar participants described Doctor as “a man who knows his way around the ecosystem of news” and this review related to the multitude of lessons that Doctor imparted. Next week, we’ll delve into his segment of ‘Editors as Content Brokers’ and why, according to Doctor, editors need to look at the value of aggregating other people’s content, such as bloggers, locally.