As you may be aware, the Boston Globe, our local paper, is in danger of being shut down--at least the print edition! This has caused one of my readers--David Lance--great angst and some great creativity.. In fact, in his ruminations (below), he came up with some market research suggestions for the Globe and their Union, a Vision of what a useful newspaper should be, and a business plan!!!
Here are Dave's thoughts:
It occurs to me that the Boston Globe union concessions that were made last week did not factor in a single contact by anyone to ask me (the bloody customer) what I want. When customers are so blatantly ignored by the owners and the unions, what can we do to be heard? Since nobody has asked, here are my answers to the questions they might have asked:
- While I like reading news on the Web, it is sporadic and more a distraction than focused information gathering, or relaxed entertainment – such as I get from reading newsprint.
- I dislike the clutter of www.boston.com.
- I love the feeling I get when reading something really compelling from physical newsprint paper while eating a bagel. Perhaps that is reason enough to preserve the media. Perhaps not. Somebody from the newspaper industry might study a person thus focused on a Sunday morning, and create some giveaway accessories they could use to entice some of us back above the fold. Maybe some little gizmo that reliably keeps the orange juice off the bed sheets - for example.
- I want reporters to uncover what I want to read about. I would pay for that.
It would be really nice (not to mention extremely savvy), if somebody from the New York Times or the local unions would maybe talk to me before conceding they can not entice me to trade a hundred pennies for a copy of their newspaper every day.
Just about every single day of my life someone has walked up to the
front door of my house or apartment and dropped off a newspaper.
Newspapers and air are kind of in the same category for me - memory
If through some miracle someone delivered a four-page or eight-page newspaper comprised 100% of articles that I want to read, and ads I want to study, it would be so foreign, so new, that I would have to break old habits just to deal with it. For example, I would have to push past the old habit of ignoring 90% of a newspaper's content. How very strange to read every article and ad on a newspaper page. How foreign it would be to feel increasingly elated as I read through each piece, one after the other. It is difficult to even imagine a newspaper that is 100% competently informative, entertaining, and filled with only valuable information.
WHAT SHOULD THE GLOBE DO??
Take two copies of the paper and a sensitive digital scale. Cut out all the readable components of the paper. (First the odd numbered pages, then use the second copy for the even numbered pages.) Label and weigh every piece. Then sit five hundred “average readers” and monitor them as they read an intact copy of that paper. (Maybe give them different colored markers to mark what they read, what they partially read, where they stopped reading, what caught their eye, what they rejected outright. Etc.)
Then calculate the physical weight of the paper as a whole vs. the weight of that content that is actually read. I bet it is a very small fraction. Publish those results. Maybe if they discover that 99% of the readership is ignoring 50% of the content, the Globe could just cut that content out. Apply some variant of the 80 / 20 rule.
Maybe somebody could print a custom paper with only content that I want to read, and hand mine to me wrapped around a custom smoothie at a storefront pit stop on the way to work... (Now we are on to something…)
BUSINESS PLAN - Draft 1 "Smoothing the Way to Charlestown"
Create a web site that hosts a selection form for a fruit smoothie breakfast item. User can select from standard menu list, or they can concoct their own recipes (within ingredient and other limits.)
The kitchen buys only
the finest and freshest local fruits, vegetables and yogurts. They
exercise only the most stringent food handling standards. They post
digital photographs of the workstations and produce bins at the top of
every hour. If there was a spill at 6:53 that didn't get cleaned up in
time, the world knows it at 7:00.
User sets up their
smoothie recipe preference. They set their default selection. They can
reset this day to day, but whatever smoothie is selected when they log
off is their current choice. More about that later.
There is nutrition information about how to build the best smoothies. There is guidance for vegetable and fruit combinations. Site provides a knowledge base about the chemistry of fruit and vegetable combining with suggestions for creating the perfect smoothie.
A web site hosts a list of article titles. When people read newspapers,
they scan titles and look at pictures to decide whether or not to read
an article. In this paradigm, user scans the same titles and looks at
the same pictures online, and decides if they want to include that
article in their customized newspaper. Article titles are available
from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and
five hundred other newspapers. They include local papers, technical and
industrial papers, and even articles by independent freelance
In addition to hand selecting articles to print, the site has a deep-dive interface for customer to set their advertising preferences and define their needs. Where classified advertising is concerned, buyer fills out a form for what they want. For example, if they want to buy a used red station wagon, in the range of $12,000 to $15, 000, with between 50,000 to 75,000 miles on it, they enter those parameters, and the site runs them against a database of all the classified ads within a two-hundred mile radius. It then delivers the results as classified ads in that user’s custom newspaper.
User can make the content as specific as they want. The result will be printed on that user's four-page, or eight-page edition. User sets the parameters of their own database result set. As they order articles, the running cost of their customized newspaper tallies in the lower corner of the interface, along with the total column inches purchases so far. When they are satisfied, they click “Finish” and log off. The newspaper order is now set for the day, just like their smoothie order. Locked and loaded.
No matter how bad the economy gets, there are still thousands, and thousands of cars in virtually every metropolitan area congesting the roadways for the morning commute. As the drivers file down the congested roads, small orange “smoothie stars” pulsate on their dashboard GPS displays. Our paper/smoothie customer pulls into ANY of these locations. Usually an empty parking lot. Drivers are guided by orange cones into a single file line. As their car enters the parking lot, some electronic, dashboard transmitter communicates their presence to a receiver mounted on the first cone. This transaction initiates the printing of their paper, and the making of their smoothie. By the time the driver gets to the other end of the parking lot (three minutes? five minutes? not more than five minutes), an attendant hands them the paper and the smoothie.
The First Amendment Implications:
Customer can review a complete listing of all working and potential stories. There are finished articles from which to choose. There are also first drafts. And proposals. Treatments. Queries. I think that would come closest to the founding father's intent when they made that amendment the first amendment. It is very important that we speak freely, think freely, knowledgably, and decide how to decide in an open, unhindered forum. Congress shall make no act to restrict it. Commerce shall make no Fox news to kill it. It is a precept of the U.S. Constitution that we the people have a right to a free and active press. A professional press. And, while the founding fathers never explicitly said so, it is very important that at some not-too distant time, we see ample evidence that Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and “The Onion” are not the only honest agents of our community information.
Subscribers to the web site can view a thorough report of the currently available and working stories. There is considerable journalistic pride exhibited in the truthful way these truth tellers report about their truth telling industry. Readers can review, suggest and even lobby for candidate topics for investigation. Readers have ample opportunity to make comments and to suggest better and increasingly more Constitutionally-sound ways to improve upon the quality of this new forum.
Customer suggestions are gathered, published and openly and actively discussed and debated. The “Community” votes on the articles that they want to see and the journalists respond to that demand by making it happen. (The community always votes on content anyway. If the articles are good – they will be purchased ala carte and read. Else they won’t.) Advice and feedback is actively sought. There is at least one feature story in each edition about the successful implementation of a customer's idea.
Care About Customers
Before the Globe folds, deciding it is a hapless victim of new technology and the New York Times management style, they ought to consider how they have allowed their customer interaction to degenerate to the absolute lowest form.
Case in point. I spoke too early about not being polled about my opinion. A few minutes ago, while laying face down on the wet pavement fishing my newspaper from under my car, I found a muddy piece of paper blowing around my driveway. Here is what it said:
"Dear Valued Globe Customer,
Please read the following two scenarios and put a checkmark next to the one that best suits your needs and tastes:
Although the speed limit in front of your house is 25MPH, sometime around 5:00 a.m. a car whose doors are a different color than the car itself will fly past your house at 40MPH. The driver (who you will never meet in your life) will hurl a newspaper/missile at the general area of your front yard, usually landing somewhere on or near your driveway. If there is a foot of fresh snow, he will place your newspaper in a plastic bag first. When you retrieve your newspaper on snowy days, we recommend you put on hip boots and draw an imaginary grid on your driveway. You should then conduct an archeological dig for your paper. Place your feet together, and use a shuffling motion in a systematic manner, traversing the grid on your driveway until you discover where your newspaper is buried. Four times a year, the driver will include a non-stamped envelope with an address from eight cities away pre-printed on it. You are advised to stuff $20 in each of these and send it to him, (if you like reading a dry paper.)
Somewhere in your neighborhood is a very nice, responsible, 17-year-old honor student named Francis. When you think about someone delivering your newspaper, you stereotypically believe that it is someone like Francis. That is because Francis delivered your father’s newspaper to him, and you still think life has improved in every way since your father’s day. (Ha on you!) Francis hand delivers your newspaper into a box by your front door. If there is a foot of snow, he uses the side of his foot to clear a path up your front steps. If it is summertime and your three-year-old has left his Big Wheel toy in the street in front of your house, Francis will move it to the sidewalk. Once a month or so, Francis will come over to your house (usually on a Saturday afternoon), and collect for the paper. He will share local information about the high school football team, and will compliment your rose bushes. At the end of the year, Francis will hope you will give him a good tip for his faithful good service, but he will be too polite to come out and ask.
Thank you for participating in our survey. Your satisfaction is everything to us. Please complete this form by checking the scenario you prefer, and then throw this paper back out in your front yard, and we will retrieve it. Your feedback is important to us!
The Boston Globe.”