As showcased in the news over the past few weeks, the newspaper industry is being hit hard by declining ad sales and a dwindling readership. The whole situation is exacerbated by the less than ideal state of the current economy. There have been a few blows to the newspaper industry in Boston over the past few months. Most recently in the news is the Boston Herald considering to outsource its printing to two independent printing companies outside of Boston. Always looming is the threat of the Boston Globe being sold off by the New York Times as well. However, there was another sad newspaper event in Boston this past year: the closing of BostonNOW.
BostonNOW was a free daily start-up newspaper geared toward the commuters of Boston, set to compete against the Boston Metro, a widely-distributed incumbent free daily. Unfortunately, BostonNOW’s financiers felt that the newspaper was not valuable enough to continue funding, and it folded just a year after its first publication. This happens to be the case with a number of media start-ups. What was unique about the concept of BostonNOW, however, is that it had three aspects: print, web, and mobile, with the print aspect being driven by reader-created content.
Most of the content that wasn’t from wire services or general local news was created by the readers of the paper through the use of blogs setup on BostonNOW’s website. Anyone with web access could create a blog on BostonNOW’s website and start writing content. The content that caught the eye of the editors would be selected and be scattered around the newspaper. Sometimes larger articles (many of them rants from everyday Bostonians) would get their own headline and article space, while most other snippets would appear in groups of black boxes.
Regardless of the content or the placement, an interactive element to the newspaper was implemented, adding value for the content creators (making them want to pick up a paper with what they said printed in it) and for the general readership (seeing what your peers have to say). Trends in current social media, such as use of review sites like Yelp.com show that people want to know and also trust what their peers in their community say, especially with the existence of an open feedback loop or forum.
Another example of leveraging communities for content creation is the implementation of Kodak’s Microzone Publishing technology at the Chicago Tribune. With Microzone technology, newspapers can create websites for different communities within a city or town. Citizens of that community can register on the website and share community news or create their own original content. Editors can then grab that content to publish in a weekly community section of the newspaper. Each community gets a special targeted section with content from its members. Companies within targeted communities can advertise within the locations they want their ad to reach, adding value to a newspaper advertisement, while keeping the cost down to allow smaller companies to advertise. In theory, the newspaper circulation will increase because of the higher value of the content.
Reader-created content is one way to add value to traditionally printed newspapers in hopes to increase readership. As some newspapers eventually transition into digital printing, there are limitless possibilities! At drupa 2008, various newspaper solutions were showcased by Océ, InfoPrint Solutions, HP, Wifag, and others. Clearly vendors want to get into this market, and are making great advancements in technology to make concepts become reality. For newspaper subscribers, this technology could mean a totally personalized newspaper containing reader-created content and targeted advertising not only by region but by the reader’s buying habits and personal preferences of that reader. Perhaps the term NewsPromo will be used to describe this new digital phenomena. While it’s still a far cry from this digital newspaper, it’s a big step in adding more value to every newspaper sold.