Using the Miami Herald as a case study, since I see them being either out of business or very near it in the next 12 months, I figure I will put forth my super basic ideas on how to revolutionize the newspaper industry.
Right now the only real asset the Miami Herald has is the real-estate it is sitting on, which happens to be prime bay front property that spans many many acres. This land and building were probably worth half a billion a few years ago during the peak of the bubble. Right now, maybe a hundred to 2 hundred million dollars. So first thing I’d do, move out, sell the space or lease it to a developer with enough cash to make something out of it. It is sitting across from a nearly billion dollar opera house. Move everyone to a cheaper location in another part of town. Or make people work from home.
Next up teach everyone in the building about blogging. Turn every reporter into a blogger covering his or her beat. Streamline the editorial process and have the editors pick the best blog posts to have printed each day. Then in turn make the main Miami Herald website into a portal for all these areas, editorializing some of the content to bump it up, and of course licensing content from big names like Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry. Have bloggers cover things that wouldn’t have made it into the print edition, cough technology cough.
So you just slashed your operating costs by a bunch and shored up a ton of capital from the real-estate sales. What next? Look at your money makers: classifieds and local advertising. These are two fields no one can compete with you on, so time to invest money in revamping them. First off, build a self-service ad system akin to google adwords that has display ads built in. Start selling your own contextual ads across all of your content. Note this won’t be as profitable on a per cpm basis as it is for google as people aren’t reading your content to find stuff, but it will make a quick impact. Remember, google adwords works well for small businesses because they are easy to get started with, everyone can write a text-ad. Second overhaul your classifieds system. Think craigslist, but then blow them out of the water. Make it free online and only paid listings get ink too. Make each paid listing a link to their weblisting. Run ads alongside the classifieds, as those searchers are looking to buy stuff. Charge for high-ticket items (real estate, cars, etc.).
After you’ve built yourself the underpinnings of a better business model, incentivize content creation by revenue sharing with your writers. Next take your online real-estate assets (domains) and start making the most of them. There is no reason Miami.com shouldn’t be the most kick-ass site about south florida in existence. It should be the yelp, yellow pages, upcoming, craigslist, tripadvisor killer.
Now do I see this happening any time soon? Probably not, but a competing group could set this up, there are lots of talented people exiting newspapers now with sales experience, journalism experience, and more. Chances are if something like this does happen, it will be too little too late. There are too many stakeholders unwilling to accept their ship is sinking to try something this radical.