Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
9 February 2018
What’s to become of the LA Times?
Do you subscribe to a daily newspaper? Judging by the state of print media, I’m guessing few of you do. That’s why the purchase of the LA Times by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is so fascinating.
Whose gonna subscribe to the LA Times now?
I won’t get into the specifics of why the newspaper industry dies here, although you read about it here. Print journalism served as the backbone of the fourth estate but not anymore. Most people receive their news from cable TV or social media. Newspapers, especially in physical paper form, are dinosaurs wondering what those fireballs in the sky are all about.
Soon-Shiong says he considers newspapers a “public trust.” But the health care mogul didn’t buy the LA Times for charity. Not when you dole out $500 million on the purchase.
His acquisition marks the fourth time an individual is buying a major newspaper. Jeff Bezos of Amazon purchases The Washington Post, and billionaires also own The Boston Globe and The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“But Soon-Shiong and the LA Times must think differently than ever before. It can’t be afraid of evolving into something like BuzzFeed or something else.”
What do those business mavens see in newspapers? Well, for one thing, they see content. And content rules in the era of instant information. The more exclusive content you hold the more relevant you potentially become.
How the LA Times should see itself
But newspapers are living within old models. They are reluctant in letting go of their traditional forms, thus becoming culturally irrelevant.
Stop seeing yourself as a newspaper. See yourself as deliverers of relevant content, no matter the model. That means being only a website. Or even an app.
They should also shake up how they charge for content. The New York Times adds nearly 100,000 new digital subscriptions last quarter. How did they do it? In part, because they sell separate subscriptions for its cooking and crosswords sections. The journalists inside the newsroom are no doubt unhappy with that. But they pay for the news coverage the NY Times creates.
I’m disappointed Bezos hasn’t been more creative with the Post. (My guess is his passion lies elsewhere.) But his newspaper remains relevant because the Post, like The New York Times, establish itself as a national newspaper of record.
For the LA Times? Uncertainty reigns. I don’t even know if it’s the national news source of record for the entertainment industry anymore. Not when the NY Times and The New Yorker busts open the Harvey Weinstein scandal, leaving the LA Times playing catch up.
It could own that niche, and also emerge as the western United States media outlet of record. (In general, national media remains East Coast centric.)
But Soon-Shiong and the LA Times must think differently than ever before. It can’t be afraid of evolving into something like BuzzFeed or something else.
Why not? It’s not the delivery system that’s important. It’s the content and what the brand of the media outlet (not newspaper) means. Otherwise, Soon-Shiong will regret spending a half billion on paper sheets nobody reads.
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