Seen the latest numbers from the newspaper companies? They're pretty heinous. Gannett: Revenue down 10.3 percent overall in the first quarter, with real estate, job and auto classifieds tumbling 26.3 percent, 24.2 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively (that's an 18 percent overall drop in classifieds). The New York Times Co.: Revenue down 6.4 percent in the first quarter; classifieds down 22.6 percent.
Those are big drops, especially in classifieds. Not surprising, but large nonetheless. We all can agree there's a serious problem in the newspaper industry—and it will get worse in the second quarter as the economy worsens—but even more disturbing is industry executives' seeming inability to do anything about it.
Sure, you can argue that there are structural and economic forces beyond the industry's control that are causing these scary declines, but if you really want to get scared, check out this story from Poynter.org, in which four publishers on a panel at last week's industry conference in Washington are asked for an example of radical ideas they've heard recently to transform the business. The response? Crickets, basically. Silence. Well, there was one half-hearted answer about getting newly placed ads into the paper quickly. Oh yeah, that's going to move the needle. Sheesh. That's what passes for big thinking these days?
Look in the mirror, newspaper execs. One of the big problems is you. You're surrounded by dramatic, earth-shattering industry change, your core numbers are dropping by double digits, and you're all still working off the same old, boring playbook. Try something new, people. Roll out some groundbreaking new products, target some attractive audiences, experiment with new technologies, try involving the readers more in content creation. Take a chance, for crying out loud. Roll the dice. It really can't be worse than what's already happening. And who knows--it might work even better!