Earlier this year I ran into Tom Mohr at an Editor & Publisher conference. Tom was then the outgoing president of Knight Ridder Digital. At the event he pitched me on the idea of a common platform for online newspapers hosted by a third party. He has now elaborated that thinking into a full-blown strategy document or “manifesto,” as he’s calling it, for the industry:
To win, industry leaders must adopt a Marshall Plan embodying two key objectives: the migration to common platforms, and the acquisition of the ability to sell top-quality online product to our advertisers. To fulfill these objectives, the independent companies of a proud industry must aggregate into an industry-wide network. In this network, each company must cede some control over its digital future into a “Switzerland” organization that manages the network.
This will require a degree of cooperation and trust rarely seen before in the newspaper business, and therefore will only be achieved through the active, visionary leadership of the industry’s captains. But, if they pursue this path and plug into the power of network economics, they will tap into $4 billion of revenue upside for the industry by 2010.
I agree with Tom that newspapers need to be competitive online to survive and that newspaper survival is tied to the US remaining an open, democratic society. As overblown as that sounds, I genuinely believe that.
Here is the full list of Mohr’s recommendations:
— Local newspapers will not be the innovation source for top online products.
— “Local” is not, in itself, defensible online.
— The big money is not in newspaper websites, but in gaining access to top-tier product via partnerships with vertical online leaders.
— Moving newspaper websites onto common platforms will deliver improvements in quality, cost reduction, traffic and revenue.
— When networked, newspapers bring critical assets to the table that strengthen their competitive position vs. online-only players.
— The window of opportunity is closing; failure to act will compromise the future of the business.
— Ultimately, the key is leadership at the highest levels.
He elaborates on each one in the article. While I don’t agree with 100% of his recommendations and the practical challenges involved in bringing together the newspaper industry are huge (maybe insurmountable), there is a good deal I do agree with. For those interested, it’s provocative and a big vision and worth reading.