Newspapers have had a hard time trying to figure out what to do about the Internet. They’ve seen the new medium cut into classified ad revenues and fear what new developments like local search may do to traditional display advertising. And as if that weren’t enough, they are losing readership to Web surfing.
In the past few years, newspapers have tried making their content available on a website for free, for a user fee, only to subscribers of their print version, and a plethora of variations. Now comes an interesting concept that may hold promise.
The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant recently introduced a program called Saturday Plus, reports the website Springwise in a recent newsletter. In the Netherlands, the Saturday paper is the big weekend edition. Those who subscribe to the new program receive a printed copy of the Saturday de Volkskrant plus online access to a full digital version on weekdays.
What makes this so intriguing is that it may be just the kind of transitional step publishing companies need to be able to take in order to reinvent their news gathering and distribution business. Publishing companies of every stripe have found it hard to move from paper and ink to digital publications. Offering a weekly hard-copy and a daily digital version lets them keep one foot on familiar terra firma while at the same time stepping onto new ground.
The weekly print edition is available to people when they have the time to sit and read. The daily digital is available in the home or the office on demand. This may be the best of both worlds. Early on, the only Web content that anyone paid for was pornography and financial advice. That is changing. By combining weekly print and daily digital editions in one subscription, newspapers will be able to ease people into paying for their content on the Internet. In fact, they may not need to increase the price to do it. Think of the money they save by not having to print and deliver individual copies.
The old line businesses that specialize in mass communication have not been quick to understand the Internet. Often they have seen it as a scary competitor to be denigrated at every opportunity. Publishers have felt compelled to have an Internet presence, but one look at most of their websites tells you just how uncomfortable they are with the digital world. If the de Volkskrant model works, it may remove one of the major roadblocks to digital newspapers. Publishers could shift their thinking from what to do about the Web to what to do on the Web.