As ad pages and subscriber numbers dwindle at many newspapers, publishers need more creative ways to monetize their paper’s brand. Some larger papers are already using alternate revenue models such selling as daily deals or hosting sponsored content.
Some newspapers have been quicker to innovate than others, and it’s unclear which strategies will pay off, so Ebyline turned to some experts from outside the journalism world—from corporate branding to fashion—for ideas that could help newspapers stay solvent in 2013 and beyond.
Have your best journalists host events
Papers like the Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe are already exploring holding events as an additional revenue stream. Karen Post, a Tampa-based branding expert and author of Brand Turnaround: How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory, thinks that smaller newspapers are making a mistake if they think only big publications can take advantage of this strategy. “Certainly newspapers have book review sections and I’ve seen newspapers throughout the country do pretty major book events where they bring in a collection of authors,” she says, mentioning the LA Times’s annual Festival of Books, adding that revenue can come from ticket sales and sponsorships. “The key is content that is relevant to your buying audience.” Local journalists with a strong following—think dining critics and popular columnists—could be at the center of events. “Really those journalists are brands,” says Post, “so to leverage the brands of the intellectual property producers and create product and events is a golden opportunity.”
Create branded apparel
Sometimes the tail wags the dog and iconic brands can often lose their association with their original product, not necessarily a bad thing. Take the recent resurgence in popularity of Pan Am bags, says Victoria Staten, who’s worked in branding at fashion powerhouses including Kenneth Cole. Why shouldn’t newspapers branch out into fashion?
“Not only did Pan Am get a whole new life with licensing,” says Staten, “but they brought that shape back into play. It had been dead for years. I think that the old-fashioned newspaper bag combined with an old newsboy hat could have a new life just like at Pan Am.” Quirky or ironic T-shirts have been trendy for a few years, so that’s another possibility for apparel.
“Newspapers are known for headlines, so they could create a whole t-shirt line with all kinds of crazy, unusual headlines,” says Staten. “The Wall Street Journal has all those archive pictures they’re selling. Why not put those pictures on T-shirts and have something beneath it that’s meaningful? Heritage and authenticity are very hot.” Blogs such as Texts from Last Night and When Parents Text have already created T-shirts and other merchandise.
License content to the rest of the web
Newspapers have long used syndicated content to fill out their pages, but Liz Goodgold, a San Diego-based branding expert and author of Red Fire Branding, suggests a reverse approach: licensing newspaper content to other websites to supplement user-generated reviews and add credibility. “I would welcome the San Diego Union-Tribune’s restaurant views on Yelp,” she explains. “It strengthens both brands. If I actually had an official restaurant reviewer and I could recognize that these were reporters from the local paper, I would get extra value.” She also envisions newspaper content syndicated to recommendation community websites such as Angie’s List. “Over 70% of all rated opinions online are positive,” adds Goodgold. “A newspaper has permission to do an unbiased report and that is what consumers value.” (Silicon Valley is divided over the role of quality content mixing with it’s technology—Google has taken a big step by including Zagat scores with search results.)
Sell the printing press
Chris Seper, founder and CEO of MedCity Media, recently wrote a provocative piece on LinkedIn asserting that the way to save a newspaper is to sell the printing presses and strike a long-term deal with the buyer to keep printing the paper, kind of like the sale-leaseback transaction common in real estate. Who’s going to buy such an expensive press? “Companies whose sole job it is to print anything, who don’t have the other infrastructure to produce their own products,” Seper told Ebyline, adding that custom publishers like large hospitals might be another potential buyer. “Custom content is increasing multiple-fold. I just don’t think that newspaper companies can afford not to divest themselves of one publishing tool.”
Getting rid of the presses is, in fact, broadly underway already with many smaller newspapers outsourcing their printing to bigger operations. Steve Buttry, digital transformations editor for Digital First Media, which has cut its printing facilities dramatically, lists other possible revenue streams on his blog.