Saturday, September 10, 2011

How local newspapers should answer to the digital era

My local newspaper, the "Schwäbisches Tagblatt" is one that I like and that provide unique content about my town and what's happening around me. I like to read it now & then. But I almost never buy it. Why?
- It's a pain to get the physical version. I have to stop by some local store just for that newspaper. I get early to work and often come late when many shops are closed - and I work in a different area where this newspaper is not available, so lunch break is not an option to get one.
- I don't want an subscription. I'll never get the time to read the paper version entirely every day - moreover, I want diversity. Sometimes I'll read the Stuttgart newspaper, sometimes Le Monde and sometimes Forbes. I have no will to pay for stuff I'll not use. Also, in Germany, you have to put your paper in a separate trash that gets emptied only once a month, so it's also too much paper for me to keep at home.

What would I like? The same as big newspaper are providing. A model where I can buy single issues as PDF, iPad app or HTML5 page without subscription for a price well under the paper one, because there's no printing, shipping etc. included.

The Tagblatt already has quite a good online presence. With top articles, movie theater schedules and so on. It's quite good and provides a lot of value already. Still I'd like to have access to the entire content, and pay for it. I'd be more than happy to pay for it given it offers me the needed flexibility - like do Forbes, Le Figaro, and many others (not Business Week though - they offer only subscription. Probably they can afford that now they're part of Bloomberg).

But it's too expensive for small newspapers! Well, yes, if everyone do its own solution for scratch. There are more than 300 regional newspapers in Germany only. They could all use a couple frameworks to deliver their information to widely used format, and also do the payment system together.
What do I care about the local information? I care about the information that's in, not the design. There are very defined sections that most newspapers need, and I don't buy the local newspaper because it's shiny and well designed. Adopting a format like Treesaver should provide enough quality to display the information a newspaper needs to publish.

Many local newspapers are slow to move, because they have the monopoly in their area. But this could be a hard landing for many of them, like this is has recently been in the United States. Our local information matters, and I'd like to keep it alive.

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