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LETTER: Local merchants key to newspaper industry

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 | 4:35 p.m. CST

All of the commentary over the past 15 years about the Internet’s impact on newspapers looks at how newspaper circulation is declining and how people are getting news and information online. Analysts diagnose those trends as terminal symptoms for printed newspapers.

That commentary all but ignores the most important consumer of newspaper services — the local merchant — the retailer or service provider who needs to tell the folks at home what he or she has to offer.

Ask anyone in any marketing business and he or she will tell you that good advertising in a good newspaper works great.

If newspapers put as much time, talent and money into gathering information, boosting circulation and selling advertising as they have into going digital, they’d be handing out bonuses instead of pink slips.

The point of providing unique information is to create an audience for local businesses that will buy space in the newspaper to get their messages to that audience. Newspapering 101.

With exceptions, broadcast has abandoned news and information. Radio and TV are entertainment mediums, not information mediums. Even the smattering of news they do provide is packaged as entertainment.

Newspapers have an exploitable lock on local information.

Perhaps the costs of printing and delivering information on paper will make a printed newspaper obsolete some day. That will not happen, however, until a cheap device emerges that has the invited, intrusive characteristics of a printed newspaper. Invited intrusion gives newspaper advertising its power. People pay to have a newspaper delivered to their homes.

Most advertising assaults consumers. Consumers, in turn, defend themselves. They flick the recall button on the remote control they hold constantly. They poke a button on the radio. They click on that X in the corner of the pop-up ad.

Newspaper advertising doesn’t push itself at people. People invite newspapers into their lives. They know that advertising is in there. They pay for it. The advertising is one of the main reasons people buy newspapers.

Local business people know good advertising in a good newspaper works because they’ve experienced it. They use newspaper advertising to reach their full potential. Newspapers provide a critical service in the local marketplace.

All of the analysis about the future of newspapers has got to stop this one-dimensional focus on newspapers as serving only readers. Providing a community with complete, accurate and fair reporting of events is a fine and noble mission, but it’s not a newspaper’s only reason for being.

Online advertising still has that new-car smell. As soon at the scent fades, local merchants will accept that online advertising doesn’t sell their goods as well as ads in the newspaper. People do not invite online advertising into their lives. For many it’s a bother, just like junk mail and ads on TV and radio.

Some newspapers seem to be intentionally driving their readers to the Internet. In the process, they’re driving off the audience that their local merchants need for their advertising.

Newspapers should develop good Web sites. Some people will never read a newspaper, but they might look at a Web site. A newspaper’s Web site broadens its audience for advertisers. And there is money to be made online. But newspapers should not forsake print for pixels.

If a good newspaper in a good market dies, the cause will be suicide, not death by Google or Craigslist. And with that death, an opportunity will be born for somebody who understands that there is no better way for a local business to advertise than in the local newspaper.

 


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