Business models adapt to sell valuable content

Greg Morris
Greg Morris

By Greg Morris

The headline on Page 2 in the July 29 issue of The Indianapolis Star read – “For The Star and its readers, changes ahead in changing times.”

Karen Crotchfelt, president and publisher of Star Media, alerted readers to upcoming limits on free access to news consumed through the company’s website and smartphone and tablet apps.

Effective Sept. 1, nonsubscribers will be able to read up to 20 articles a month at before needing to subscribe.

I get a lot of questions from folks asking me about the future of newspapers. I suspect you all field the same ones.

Are there going to be newspapers five years from now? Can newspapers survive and stay in business? Is journalism going to disappear, and will we be fed information through blogs, social media and other unreliable sources? And the list goes on.

I’m also aware that as newspaper professionals our perspectives depend on what size city or town we’re in and what type of publication we print.

For smaller community papers, life is still pretty good. If you are a large daily in a big city, your challenges are urgent. And there are many publications somewhere in between both ends of the spectrum.

If you’re a large operation, you’ve been immersed in the online publishing world for more than a decade. If you’re a smaller newspaper and the only game in town, you may have been just dancing around the edges of online publishing.

As a result, it’s difficult to send a “one size fits all” message to our entire membership regarding paywall choices and similar issues facing newspapers today in an increasingly digital world.

But know this: I can’t tell you exactly when it will happen, but the new world order in the digital age will eventually land at your front door, no matter how insulated you think you are.

I thought our operation was pretty insulated until reality finally set in four or five years ago. We woke up in a hurry.

And, as 2013 approaches, I think my experience is far enough along the curve to offer some perspective.

Back to the questions I get asked a lot.

This is what I believe and the way I explain where IBJ Media is in this digital metamorphosis: I think our company is a small microcosm of the entire industry. I no longer view our organization as a newspaper company. We are no longer a weekly newspaper.

Rather, we are a news and information company that distributes our unique local business content via newspapers, e-newsletters, websites, smartphones and tablet devices, and we stand ready to look at new forms of distribution as new formats develop.

We’re not 24/7 in our coverage yet, but we’re getting there.

We break news online seven days a week.

Yes, our printed newspaper is still the most important form of distribution of our information.

But digital platforms grow every year and at some point will no doubt overtake the printed newspaper.

Also, I don’t believe our business is print or digital. It’s print and digital.

The successful business model today blends the two platforms and delivers news and information to readers in the manner they want to receive it. The key is to enrich the online experience and not just paste newspaper content into a website.

Scholars on this topic can articulate strategies better than I can, so I’ll get back to The Indianapolis Star’s new metered business model.

I think that strategy is a good one for today.

People want everything online to be free.

Of course, we all know it costs a lot of money to produce great journalistic news and information.

It doesn’t cost much for someone to sit down at a computer and blog an opinion.

As a reader, if you want great unique content that is of true value to you, you’re going to have to pay something for it.

The Indianapolis Star’s unique content has value. I believe the Indianapolis Business Journal’s unique business content has value.

And I believe all HSPA member publications have unique content that is valuable to readers.

The metered online business model is a good solution to receive compensation for creating value for readers.

Have a great August. See you next month.

Greg Morris, HSPA board of directors president, is presi­­dent of IBJ Media and publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal.