Free Kindles and no newspapers

If [T]he [T]imes killed its paper print-run and followed the Kindle-only model, that would leave the newspaper with $346 million in its pocket. Okay, distributing the newspaper electronically in a secure way needs some electronic infrastructure…let’s stick a figure of $10 million on that. That still leaves $336 million to spare–a figure not to be sniffed at.

While it’s true that printing and delivering a newspaper is a huge cost that makes less and less sense by the day, this analysis still misses the point.  Replacing one ridiculous expense with a more ridiculous but smaller expense is not the way to succeed.  Newspapers must accept that the only way forward is to focus on the the scarce things they have to sell, and give the rest away.

And no, I don’t mean selling the printing presses and the buildings that house them.  While these things are scarce, and might bring in some extra cash, they won’t solve the problem.

But what do newspapers have that they could sell?  They have experienced reporters who will do more than scan Google and Technorati for the latest news.  They will actually investigate, research, and report.  These are all valuable things that take time and effort.  Businesses would pay for extensive, accurate, and timely information about their respective industries.  They already do pay for information like this.  Collecting this sort of information, weeding out what’s not important, presenting it in a readable way, these things are all hard.  These things are all valuable.  These are things you can sell.

But how does everyone else get their news?  For free.  Delivered via blogs and RSS feeds and however else people find it convenient.  Some will still pay for paper copies, at least for a while longer.

The difference is that, instead of trying to figure out ways to restrict your content, to keep people from getting at it, to inflate the price with artificial scarcity, you get it out there.  You use your content to build your reputation as a great place to come for good information.  And when people want to pay for your reporting and researching skills, you keep giving the content away.  Those who are paying you can have it first, maybe, but after that it goes out onto the internet where others can use it and build on it and consume it and keep building your reputation and naturally inflating the prices, sustainably inflating the prices (provided you continue the high level of service).

Saving the newspaper industry won’t really be about the newspaper at all.  It will be about transitioning an old industry that focused on putting things on paper into a new industry that focuses on collecting information and putting it together to be consumed.

Article: Fast Company – Should The New York Times Ditch Paper, Distribute Kindle E-readers?

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