Can print act like a startup?

From Flickr User mathoov

From Flickr User mathoov

A post by Om Malik this morning has me contemplating an idea that I realize no one who can make the decisions will buy into, but it’s worth considering: As a long-standing, institution can you look at yourself in the mirror, determine that you need to reinvent yourself and say, “Maybe it’s time to act like a startup?”

The inspiration from this comes a little from Om’s really helpful advice on making a freemium model work for a startup company. Pulling on examples like Evernote, Remember the Note and Flickr, the focus is on how to make money off of something for free. First, give a loss-leading service away for nothing (say, access to music, a simple repository for anything), but then set some sort of bar or restraint to where it requires an investment. On Pandora, it’s a certain number of free music hours each month; on Flickr, limited file types and storage. Then the meter starts, and usually it takes away the advertisements often served on free services.

flickr pro

Flickr Pro vs. Flickr Free

This is the exact opposite thinking of a print newspaper. Subscriptions are relatively cheap, but its support is still the department store ads and what’s left of classifieds (read: not much). If you want to adapt, you can’t think like the print beast that has audience stats they want to sell for placements.

The other lesson is don’t try to make the for sale item the exact same as what is currently free. Don’t build a wall around what exists – use that as a carrot into a new garden of content. This is where the success lies in the freemium experiment. The no-cost buy in turns into a necessity. In Om’s case, it turned into a reason to stay with a certain service:

A few weeks ago I decided to move all my data from Dropbox to another online service, Jungledisk. The reason: I wanted to archive all my folders and information from 2008, for which I needed more storage than my current Dropbox account could offer. It was about 45 GB of data, which meant I’d have to upload it to Jungledisk, and even with a really fast connection, it would take forever. Suddenly it dawned on me that the more stuff I put on Dropbox, the more difficult it would become for me to switch to another service. Instead, I upgraded to 100 Gb a year.

So it isn’t building a wall – it’s more like a picket-fence. You can see a little bit of the light through it, and for many people, that’s enough of a peek at what’s on the other side. The business will come from those who want to look at all of the space you have to offer, and that means that if you make it lush, unique and necessary, they will.

It’s up to newspapers to stop thinking they can charge for what has been available. It’s really about finding what the incentive is beyond just what the audience has already enjoyed. This goes against everything you thought for the last century. Tough. Sometimes you have to adapt – because the advertisers are going elsewhere. Make the content the service, not a frame for ads and there is success to be had.

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One Comment on “Can print act like a startup?”

  1. […] own joke from a few months ago was the media needs to stop acting like an institution and start imagining itself as an aggressive startup. Get in the weeds with grassroots or community groups who stand to build and provide content, while […]


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