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  • Writer's pictureElana Duffy

Embracing a world of content

I’m a soccer (or, really, football) fan. Having followed the sport, and only that sport, for years, it wasn’t much of a shock that many within and contributing to FIFA are being accused of corruption.

What was a shock was when someone exposed it. While crimes are still alleged, the evidence trails are public as are the resignations and confessions. What was most interesting is that much of the investigation was triggered by and reported by not authorities, but investigative journalists doing an excellent job. It was fascinating to watch.

Or, I’d like to think it would have been fascinating to watch.

The problem was I couldn’t actually access some of the information without paying for subscriptions to papers I don’t normally read. Click-bait titles popping up on my suggested reads stream would use up my 5 free articles a day on one site, another well-known and national rag would only show two paragraphs and then fade into the “Want to read more? Click here to subscribe!” It was like walking into a restaurant and being told you have to pay for the week to eat dinner today, but here’s some free garlic bread to make you hungrier.

Print media is seemingly still fighting the digital revolution. They are one of the last mediums to do so with music, movies, and television all having begrudgingly fought in their own ways as well. Music is still embroiled in and charging new legal battles for infringements, Netflix is hit with criticism when even the hint of advertising is rumored, HBO encourages sharing but hasn’t invested in better bandwidth. But however late to the game these channels came, at least they showed up and played. Print is still figuring it out.

So let’s look at a few lessons to be learned here in embracing change, and see how they might apply not just to print journalism, but to every business.

Change is inevitable. Deal with it, but more importantly, learn it. You are innovating and so is everyone else. It’s a harsh truth that you aren’t the only one out there who is brilliant, but a truth that needs to be embraced. Study new tech, even if it seems irrelevant right now to your business. Knowing what is in development and in production in various fields can not only help you come up with ideas of your own, but it can also lead to great partnerships with other brilliant firms that end up serving your customers, and your bottom line, better in the long run.

Understand your competitors’ tactics. Just like you can’t stop the winds of change, you also can’t stop your customers from finding what they are looking for, either from you or a competitor. The Journal wouldn’t give me what I wanted without a full month subscription, so I went to the Tribune where I just had to close a few ads before I could read the news. Airlines could learn a lot here as well, as the industry becomes less customer-service oriented so they try to make up for it with frequent flyer perks, when really all they have to do is make a better experience (no kidding, a friend finally gave up on United after Delta offered free peanuts while United said “5 dollars for a snack pack”). You have competition, and those competitors are trying new things to get your customers. You should be doing the same right back to them instead of counting on things like loyalty and habit.

Make sure the money trail is evident. Music does this brilliantly, now that they’ve learned: you can listen to three songs and then a 15 second ad, or you can pay 8 dollars a month and not have any ads plus you can pick the artist or album. Ad space isn’t free, and we know that, but why am I paying you a subscription fee and you are also making me watch three ads during a TV show for major brands when I could just head over to another system and do one or the other? I’m a customer, and I want to know that my money is really going to my service. If it isn’t, I’ll move my business elsewhere. I know I don’t want your whole paper, so maybe advertising with spots sold by the article or topic or section is the key, then tell me the ads will go away if I subscribe. Make sure the customer knows what they get for their money.

Customers know what they want and how to find it. I live in New York City, where there are still legitimate newsstands on many corners. I can get a full paper, complete with the funnies and the Sunday crossword, if I want. But I prefer to get different sides of the story, meaning I need to read at least three different articles on the same topic to get a moderately balanced view, so I move on. Similarly, why would I buy an album on CD when I can get two songs I know I like on the web? Or I don’t want to own every Star Trek episode, but I really want to watch the one where Kirk abandons Khan for the first time. The key to reworking your business model for new technology is to understand your customers, and to understand their options. The only way to do this is through data collection. What are they drawn to? What do they do next? What products are grabbing customers and what might be a good companion to that? Anonymous data collection is seldom money wasted as you can determine bundles, actions, and reactions and put data to better use.

You might not be the journalist or investigative team bringing down worldwide corruption in the most played sport on the planet, but you are brilliant at what you do and you shouldn’t be giving that away for free. Having confidence that your customers understand that is part of what makes the greater economy work. But the other part is you understanding those customers right back. Don’t force them to bundle when they want one product, give them more for their money, at least more than your competition. Observe them, talk to them, grasp what it is that will bring them back, and you can earn loyalty with or without a subscription.

Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC. She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.

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