InDenverTimes Rises from RMN Ashes

I was alerted to the launch of InDenverTimes, an online publication staffed by former reporters and editors of the now defunct Rocky Mountain News. (Thanks Paul Pedersen.)

They’re going after subscriptions and looking for 50K paying subscribers by late April. That number of people might not be very difficult to hit given the traffic that the site had:


picture-15

However they’re looking for about $60 per year from subscribers. That price point is too high. They need a lower number from more people, say $30 from 100K. Or they need to combine advertising with subscriptions (just like the print publication). If they’re successful locally they might be able to command decent CPMs. 

The closure of the Rocky Mountain News creates an opportunity for these folks to charge for their publication. It’s strange. The RMN probably would not have been able to successfully do that, but this new venture presents the opportunity.

We’ll see if the community responds. It will be a litmus test. If it succeeds you will see this replicated in many markets perhaps even before the incumbent print paper folds.

___

Related: The Seattle PI goes online only. This is all happening in front of our eyes, folks.

The way Hearst has reconstituted the PI as an online only pub (minimal staffing, use of other sources, limited original reporting), may represent the future of the SF Chronicle and other metro dailies.

Update: Why Newspapers Can’t Be Saved but the News Can, from the NY Times. The real, underlying issue is how do you create a sustainable economic model that supports quality reporting, news gathering, writing/editing and related efforts?

19 Responses to “InDenverTimes Rises from RMN Ashes”

  1. Paul Pedersen Says:

    Good call on the price point.

    One interesting thing I find missing from the coverage so far is, can they charge a subscription when no other paper is? Why is no one asking that? The fact that this is missing from commentary says that we, in general, feel they can. Well, if the quality is high enough.

    The truth is, we don’t mind paying for quality. I can watch my favorite shows on Hulu or NBC.com, but I pay for cable anyway. DVDs are high quality, but many of us are willing to pay double for BlueRay. We’ll pay for quality.

    Likewise, a well written news article that tells a story vs. one that simply states facts is, to me, worth paying for. If they maintain Rocky Mountain News’ standard of quality, they might have a shot. If not, I doubt readers will pay for long.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree. Quality has to be a primary consideration.

  3. Seattle P-I Goes Web-only & Goes Hyperlocal Says:

    […] Search Engine Land colleague Greg Sterling has this related post about the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News and its efforts to switch to a web-only news site, and […]

  4. David Mihm Says:

    I still maintain that both for search traffic reasons, and the availability of free content elsewhere, that using a pure ad-supported model is the only one that can truly succeed in the long run. But $30 a year seems like a pittance to pay, and I’d probably do it myself if the content were good.

    InDenver just needs to do a phenomenal job of audience acquisition and loyalty in order to succeed. I have a feeling they could dwarf the Post’s online readership if they optimized it, got active in social media, and gave it away. They kill off any chance the Post has of surviving by stealing ALL of the online market share in Denver once the Post’s print audience dwindles to a point where it’s unsustainable.

  5. AhmedF Says:

    Ugh – I *HATE* the idea of everything being advertiser supported. I do agree with Greg though – $30/year would have been a nicer target (or even – $36/year – $3/month).

    As for SEO – they could easily still put up a description/summary online, and only allow subscribers to read it all. Should still get them a fair chunk of traffic.

  6. David Mihm Says:

    Even traditional media is almost all ad-supported…TV, magazines, radio, etc. It’s just the way of the capitalist world. I’m not saying it’s the RIGHT way but it’s their best chance at success.

    I’m not sure the description/summary thing is going to work…NYTimes tried it & switched to the free model. I have a feeling those guys probably have both the quality of content AND search volume to test the economics…

  7. Paul Pedersen Says:

    Having a unique page for each article, which included the headline and a strong teaser, would certainly help. Without the full content, however, my gut says the inbound link volume would be substantially lower than it needs to be in order to grab a decent share of search traffic. It’s those inbound links that give you the Google juice.

    Taking the approach they are taking, they are going to need a base of loyal Denver readers to survive. I’m not sure they can get that, but I hope they can.

    With that said, it’s obvious to everyone involved that online ads alone won’t support a newspaper. Why else would newspapers have resorted to selling someone else’s product (Yahoo, HotJobs, Zillow, SEM, etc) to support their own product?

    In my opinion, it’s worth a shot. They have nothing to lose. If they go back to the same failing model that newspapers have been using since they started giving away their content, they’re doomed to fail. It’s time to try something new.

  8. Paul Pedersen Says:

    OK. Seriously. I don’t give away my SEM/SEO work for free …or for tips.

    If newspapers would stop giving their work away for free, including syndicating their news to site that give it away for free, would they be in this mess?

  9. HopiMedicineMan Says:

    If Ahmedf is going to quote me (“Ugh”) I’d like to see some attribution.
    I don’t like the name, InDenverTimes, and I don’t like the staff, all the liberals from the News not picked up by the Post. A few of those will be joining this group. They’re being edited to death, especially Vince Carroll who should get his own talk show before it’s too late.
    I predict this effort will be successful, as much as I disagree with another liberal publication in Colorado. It will cut into both the Post and Westword. It will be interesting to see which of the inner city publications in this Depression, will emerge as the only news source, if any. Rename it, InDepressionTimes.

  10. earlpearl Says:

    I’m a big newspaper fan. The death of newspapers is a tragedy. The real tragedy will be the loss of reporting skills. (If he were still alive Richard Nixon would probably have figured out a way to become president for life–if not for the Washington Post and Watergate reporting) 😀

    Some of the recent pieces I’ve seen here and elsewhere referencing local reporting…such as the piece on the Bay area reporters and a Baltimore reporter checking on local police activities…..This stuff is vital to the every day fabric of society….let alone the national information.

    Lets see…..$60/year. That is a little more than $1/week. Cripes that is a lot less than every single newspaper in every single city in the country.

    The loss of reporting is going to be an incredible loss felt around the nation.

    There are so many reasons why the newspapers are losing in this age. They missed the boat with regard to certain evolving developments over the years, and as much as I love using it….I can’t help but think that CraigsList stuck the dagger in their hearts…..it set up a bottom line competitive framework that made classified advertising…FREE. Can’t compete with that.

    While traditionally in most media….and currently with regard to Search Engines…..advertising has paid the freight ….who is to say that will remain the status quo. Cable television is a combination of paid usage and advertising. Cable continues to grow as network TV continues to sink.

    Subscriptions have been out there for years with regard to all sorts of media. It has often been the small/less important aspect of media revenues….trailing advertising…but it has been out there.

    I hope the InDenver effort is successful.

    Dave

  11. Greg Sterling Says:

    Dave:

    I’d like to see this succeed too.

  12. AhmedF Says:

    Just because existing media has a mix of advertising doesn’t make it right. Having run a successful content site (100,000+ uniques a day) where I had advertisers, I can tell you that the pressure created between advertisers and the content you produce is immense. I don’t care whatever fancy ‘the ad sales are a separate force’ line management may like to throw – at the end of the days, the advertisers *do* have influence over the publication. My favorite magazine is Consumer Reports – exactly so because I know that the chance of bias is pretty much damn nil. Then again, I’ve put my money where my mouth is and pledged to support it (just like I pay for ESPN.com and other online media places I find useful).

    About the lack of SEO value – so what? How much does each visitor make NYT? Does it make them $60 (or even $30) over a year? Somehow I doubt it. The goal here is not to be the #1 trafficked site – the goal here is to be a profitable entity that reports and supports the community.

    As for the random anonymous person complaining about the ‘liberal’ slant – ugh.

  13. earlpearl Says:

    Geez: Very timely updates with regard to the NYtimes article and the situation in Seattle.

    I’m more business oriented than creative. And I believe in value of news and the value of reporters following events. They are a protection against abuses both by the government and by private entities. They have served that function well for over a century….maybe 2 centuries. Who is going to provide that function in this blogging/opinionated world without reporters doing the work on the ground to uproot stories that don’t get told without signifigant investigative work.

    As a business guy…If I were trying to save the reporting function of the Seattle PI I’d look at the following:

    1. How many reporters do we need to appropriately cover local, statewide, regional news….and do we need others. What is the cost?
    2. How much support does that require–How much will it cost?
    3. How much will it cost to get the content we provide on the web or on the web and in print…or whatever?

    Okay…I have a cost model. Add something for grey areas for mistakes in the calculations and something for profit.

    Then I would figure out a couple of experiments for generating revenues.

    An ad model? Maybe. Who is making what with different content on the web. How much ad content can I sell? How much will it bring in?

    A subscription model? Okay what price points for what size readership? Basic economics suggests the higher the price the lower the volume and vice versa.

    Some kind of sponsorship model….sort of like businesses sponsoring sports arenas. Might bring in funds….but how do we set up a firewall between news reporting and the large sources of money?

    Once I had a cost model, I’d start experimenting with the income side. As the Times article suggested…..its going to take a lot of experimentation.

    It might need a serious early involvement for public awareness. Cripes the Pew Report suggests the public increasingly doesn’t care. The public doesn’t see the value.

    Ultimately if the public doesn’t see a worth in investigative reporting….then journalism dies.

    Reporting is vastly different than editorialising. Even a conservative reporter, Kathleen Parker acknowledges this. She editorialised about the dying trend of newspapers and among the areas where she pointed fingers–she referenced 20 years of screaming about liberal press by (and in her words)–the dittoheads.

    Hard reporting serves everyone. Even as the hard Right has slammed the NYTimes and the “liberal press” for decades….its reporting might as often uncover elements that support any side of a political debate.

    A few years ago, the NYTimes uncovered that secret documents taken from the deposed Iraqi (Saddam Hussein) government and being revealed to the public–included documents written in an Arabic dialect that revealed how to make weapons of mass destruction. The revelations of these documents was pushed by a Republican Senator. The Bush administration was initially against this process, but caved to that Senator’s admonissions, and then more quickly, rather than carefully, began to make these documents available to the world wide web.

    As soon as NYTimes reporters revealed this….bingo….the Administration shut down the process.

    Who in their right minds, within America wants those documents revealed to the public. It was an excellent reporting coup.

    Reporting in that case was neither American lefist or American Rightist. It simply uncovered a slip up that would make it easier for any animals out there to build weapons of mass destruction.

    Investigative reporting is a source that further protects the public against abuse from any source, be it a portion of the government, the police, the IRS, powerful business interests, charities that keep 80% or more of the funds they collect and give 20% or less…..or whatever.

    In any case, with lots of unknowns with regard to how the reporting/journalism function can be maintained….I’d start with a cost model and then in the face of many unknowns I’d work to find an income model that works.

  14. David Mihm Says:

    Dave, I agree with many of your points. But we’re not talking about the New York Times or the Washington Post going out of business. This is the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle PI.

    I’m not going to comment on the “hardness” of their journalism directly since I don’t have experience reading either paper. I would just say that in 5+ years of avid reading of my local newspaper back in Central Illinois, I don’t remember them uncovering ANYthing local that a national news outfit did not cover (Bridgestone tire controversy, price fixing at ADM). They provided commentary on those investigations, a role which Local bloggers are very much able to fill.

    The big $$ investigative journalism is still going to get funded because the larger newspaper companies are more profitable (though they need to tighten their belts).

    Ahmed, as for your point about ESPN.com, yes, they offer premium content that I have paid for at certain times. But what if they shut off the free versions of their site entirely? I doubt they’d get too much traffic to their paid sections; casual fans would just switch over to SI.com.

    And while a single visitor to the NYT will not bring them $30 a year in ad revenue, the CUMULATIVE value of ALL searchers that are brought in by the decision to open up their archives, receive incoming links, buzz in the blogosphere, etc…THAT will bring them more than subscriptions could. One or two stories that get on Digg would presumably bring hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. At a $20+ CPM, that is $20K on one story. It would take a lot of subscribers to make up for that.

  15. Dave Oremland Says:

    @David:

    The previous pieces here on investigative crime reporting in the Bay area and this piece…http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022703591.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

    referencing crime reporting in Baltimore, speak to the local nature of investigative reporting.

    In a pared down environment within a large city (say Seattle or Denver)–how many reporters are necessary to cover critical local/regional/state activities? I don’t know that.

    Hm…there is crime, fraud, financial shenanigans, local actions by city, state, county and municipal governing bodies, local business activities, local charities, etc. etc. etc.

    I think the Seattle PI reported having about 140-150 reporters before closing the presses. Do you need 140 or so? I don’t know.

    But I’d start with a head count and functions to try and cover areas that could be of concern to the citizenry.

    Then I’d build my cost model around that number.

    Then I’d experiment like h3ll around the revenue model. I think the writer in the Times piece got it right. Who knows what is going to happen in the future?

    I recall when Cable first came out–(being old/ancient–like our friend MB–;).

    Its pricing model has evolved and its grown dramatically.

    I was saddened by the results of the Pew survey. The public has no interest in the source of investigative reporting and doesn’t have a feel for its value.

    I think that will be a big loss.

  16. Joe Says:

    From Seeking Alpha, Felix Salmon:

    “Jeff Jarvis takes note of a very important development among some of the biggest and most successful news websites in the world: they’re publishing APIs:

    The Guardian just announced that it is releasing all its content through an API as well as making available many different data sets through a data store, all of which can be mashed up into others’ sites and applications. They join other organizations – the BBC, National Public Radio, and The New York Times – in releasing APIs; note that it’s the creme of news that sees the wisdom in APIs. The Guardian’s offers more than headlines: articles, video, galleries, everything. It also adds one more important element to its offering: a business model, creating an ad network for users of the API.

    This is hugely important, and I think it’s much more likely to be the way of the future than any kind of collusion in smoke-filled rooms.

    Up until now, websites have been thinking about the web using a metaphor from other media: different news sites are competing for readers, and the way to attract readers is to provide great content. If you do that, and if that content is only available on your own website, then the readers will have to come to you in order to read it. Once they do that, you can monetize them by selling ads.

    Today, however, we live in a remix culture where it’s hard to persuade a huge number of people that what they all want is the exact same website, featuring a small subset of the world’s news, all of which was written by the same group of people.

    It’s still pretty much impossible to construct a viable business model for a news organization the size of the NYT or BBC or NPR or Guardian where the costs of the newsroom are covered by the revenues of the website. But that doesn’t mean that the internet is killing newsrooms, it just means that we need to rethink the way in which newsrooms get their information online.

    The first hints of this came with RSS, which is a fabulous technology. I rarely get my news from websites any more; instead I have it pushed directly into my RSS reader, where I can read it in the way I like, as it arrives. I’ve explained before that full RSS feeds ultimately result in increased web traffic; Jarvis corroborates that by telling us that the Guardian’s web traffic continued to rise after it switched to full feeds.

    But RSS has never really caught on among the web-browsing public: it’s a tool for geeks who are willing and able to do their own customization. APIs, by contrast, promise to be able to do something RSS-like but for a much broader audience.

    In a fragmented, heterogenous, and long-tailed world, there are billions of people who will want to read some of your content, a much smaller number who will want to read a lot of your content, and a much smaller number still who will make the effort to visit your website in order to do so.

    On the other hand, nearly all of those people will visit some other set of websites in order to get their news and analysis. So the question becomes: how do you reach the overwhelming majority of potential readers who will never visit your website? And the answer is: APIs.

    The minute you publish an API, your material becomes available to hundreds of thousands of websites around the world. You no longer need to spend a huge amount of money and effort persuading readers to come to you; instead, you come to them, wherever they might alight online. Your stories will appear on websites devoted to libertarian politics, or to outboard-motor collectors, or to cat fanciers, or to inhabitants of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The editors of those websites will use your material because it’s available to them for free, and because it’s really high-quality content. And the Kalamazoo website will become much more popular because it will feature a broad range of material it could never produce on its own. Everybody wins.

    But it gets better. With everybody else free to use your content, you also become free to use other people’s content. No news organization in the world always has the single best story on every subject, but they also feel the need for their websites to feature all the most important stories. With APIs, they can play to their own strengths, and run the stories of other news organizations when those are better. From a reader’s perspective, the value of the website improves, and so the website gets more visitors.

    If you’re looking for a web-based business model which can scale and succeed, this is it. If somebody reads your content on a third-party website, you haven’t lost a reader, you’ve gained one. How do you monetize that reader? Well, RSS feeds now include ads, and there’s no reason why APIs shouldn’t do so as well. Or you could take a leaf out of the people who allow their video to be embedded: add links back to your own products within the embed code or the API.

    The old-media mindset can be seen in this story by the NYT’s Brian Stelter, which talks a great deal about websites “defending their turf” against competitors which “are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content”. But rather than fight those competitors, why not embrace them? Tell them to shave away and to profit away, since the internet is the world’s best-ever example of a positive-sum game, where if your competitor does well, you’re more likely, not less likely, to do well too. In fact, give your competitors all the tools they need to embed your content directly into their websites, without having to worry about fair use or lawsuits. And that way, reach their readers as well as your own.

    One of the smartest decisions that the Portfolio.com publishers ever made was to allow Seeking Alpha to republish my blog entries on their website, with no money changing hands. Seeking Alpha has a large audience of stock traders and other people who love the one-stop shop for investment ideas but who have no desire to navigate away to Portfolio.com just to read my stuff.

    Since that decision was made, I’ve become one of Seeking Alpha’s top ten contributors, and have been included in emails which Seeking Alpha has sent out millions of times to some of the most valuable readers in the world — many of whom are not only potential readers but are even potential advertisers on Portfolio.com. In a way it doesn’t really matter how much direct traffic Portfolio gets from Seeking Alpha: the ancillary benefits alone make the deal worthwhile.

    Now imagine that instead of doing deals on a website-by-website basis, Seeking Alpha could simply use an API to embed any piece of commentary it found and liked on a website like Portfolio or nytimes.com. It would happily do so, I’m sure, even if that API included an ad unit or other means of driving revenue to the content creator.

    Moving to a world of APIs does mean that websites will need to scale back the hubris: the idea that they can be all things to all people, and that if they only try hard enough and have great enough content, they can get to a place where anybody who might want to read their content will navigate to their website and read it there.

    But that mindset has already come to an end, as can be seen in the resurgent debate about putting up subscription firewalls: the whole point of those firewalls is to artificially restrict your universe of readers in a desperate attempt to maximize short-term revenues. Much better that you expand your universe of readers, to include people who would otherwise never visit your website at all. And the best way of doing that is through APIs.”

  17. Greg Sterling Says:

    There’s a lot to say about this last comment/article. I’m not in a position to do it. APIs may well be smart, but there are issues re monetization and brand dilution.

  18. Papers w/o Print: Just Another News Site? « Screenwerk Says:

    […] something I was meaning to include in my newspaper post this morning and neglected to. Sites like InDenverTimes, arising out of the ashes of the Rocky Moutain News, Christian Science Monitor and Seattle PI are […]

  19. Mihmorandum | The *Apparent* Death of Journalism | For Fun Says:

    […] Sterling has written quite a bit about this topic in the last couple of months, and I’ve left quite a few rather pithy comments on his blog to the […]

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