Small Town News


5-point plan for a successful Web site

Silver State Post of Deer Lodge, Montana

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It was only through two decades of trial and error that this newspaper's web site came to be and in case you're wondering how it all happened I happily share with you my formula:

1. First and most important, do as little as possible. The Newspaper industry is largely responsible for what little credibility that's available on the internet. Newspapers have always been the most successful advertising media and we cannot improve the effectiveness of our core product (print media) by cannibalizing our true resources (our professional staff and intelligent readers) and migrating them to the least effective advertising media (the internet). Yes, a great website will attract geometrically superior readership than a printed product but its audience will be geometrically fragmented and hence the advertising effectiveness will be fragmented. Doing nothing (online) is the single best method of improving a newspaper's financial success.

2. If you must have an online presence use it only to tease regular paid subscriptions to your print product. The best practice is to run our current lead photo and the first few sentences of the top three or four pieces in this week's newspaper and finish each tease with a hot link that reads "want to read the rest of the story?" When a reader hits the hot link he or she is taken to a subscription form.

3. If you must sell web-based subscriptions to your newspapers charge at least six-times your regular subscription rate. Paid print subscriptions account for less than 20 percent of our industry's revenue which means when new internet readers find us, or when print readers migrate to our electronic newspaper we will be losing most of that 80 percent of our revenue that comes from display advertising. So if we ever offer online subscriptions to this newspaper we'll have to charge enough to cover the inevitable collapse of our advertising revenue.

4. If you must sell internet advertising don't charge much for it, because it isn't worth much. Any newspaper that has been running a website for more than a few years knows that selling internet ads is easy, the first time. After a while though, the advertiser realizes his electronic ad works fractionally as well because it now competes with every thing else on the internet and that number borders on infinity.

5. Be patient. If you're like me you've tried a dozen models and attended a dozen seminars by dozens of internet experts and the only thing we all agree on is that none of us knows how to make this work for newspapers. Sooner or later someone will figure it out and as Bear Bryant would say, I might not have the first successful newspaper internet site but I won't have the third.

Tom Mullen has managed more than a dozen community newspapers over the past 20 years. In that time he has helped create nearly as many unsuccessful websites.

Copyright 2010 Silver State Post, Deer Lodge, Montana. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: April 28, 2010

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