Are newspapers dead?

Are newspapers dead?

For the New Year in 2010 I decided to try and do a fitness program centered around my fitness and exercise log website, Maintain Fit. I arranged to have a few fitness and health experts on the program and I got to work creating some press releases. I also followed tips I found in this book about free press.

So the good news is that with a little effort on my part and some follow up, I landed an “article” in the Idaho Statesman, which is a local Boise paper. It made sense for me to try for that since I live in Boise and that’s where it would be most “newsworthy”. What’s more it was going to be in the Health section of the paper alongside similar articles on New Year’s resolution programs.

I want to mention that the email subject line and focus of the press releases that originally got me attention was that a former Mr. USA was going to take part in the program this year. That’s the most newsworthy part, if you ask me, and the original editor Dave Staats seemed to agree. Well, the article that actually got printed not only passed on using that in the headline, but also left it out of the article entirely! That’s really confusing to me, but I will admit that I don’t understand the news or newspapers very well.

Despite leaving out what I thought was the most newsworthy component, I was still happy to get in the paper. So far so good, or so I thought. The article did run, but only in the paper. I don’t have any idea why they wouldn’t put it on their website in addition to being in their paper. What could it possibly benefit them to publish something in print and not on their website in 2010? I did notice that their online health section seems to be a bit neglected and provides a disproportional number of articles from a local personal trainer. Maybe it just doesn’t get enough online readership to justify their attention.

Before I rant any further, let’s have a look at what actually got printed.

Life section of Idaho Statesman

Life Section of the Idaho Statesman.

And here’s the actual article that was published.

Maintain Fit Fitness Jumpstart article in Idaho Statesman

Fitness Jumpstart article as it appeard in the Idaho Statesman

On Monday morning I got to my computer early to be ready for the traffic spike I expected. I didn’t really have any idea how many visits I would get, but I did expect to get some additional visits. The reason I thought I would see some traffic is that the first time the Idaho Statesman published an article about maintainfit.com I got a few thousand visits. But that article did make it online and even ran on their homepage for a couple hours.

Well, the traffic didn’t come. I waited and waited, but it didn’t materialize. I did have a big traffic day, but I always do at the first of the year. Every year I get an increase in search engine traffic at the first of the year from the folks that are trying to reach their New Year’s resolutions. This year wasn’t any different, and the majority of my traffic was coming from the search engines, as usual.

In the end, I think that I can identify about a dozen additional visits that came in from the article. I don’t have any numbers about how many papers the Idaho Statesman distributes, but I really expected that I would end up with more than a dozen visits.

Warren Buffett is also losing faith in Newspapers

So, does all this mean that newspapers are dead? Within the last month, the likes of Warren Buffett has signaled the eroding market for newspapers in the wake of internet growth. What benefit is there to be had from either getting press in or advertising in newspapers?

There are some conclusions I can draw from the data I have and some that I just can’t answer. One conclusion that I can draw is that the amount of time and effort I put in to get another article in the Idaho Statesman wasn’t worth it. I could have gotten more traffic from other efforts. On the bright side is that I managed the press releases in such a way that I did end up with search engine visibility for keywords such as “new year’s resolution fitness program” and was on Googles top results page for the important days at the first of the year.

Some things I don’t know include how much traffic the other two programs received that were featured in the same article and how my offer compared to their offers. Of course when you put cash prizes up against some local guy that just has a program, it doesn’t bode well for me. If they had mentioned Mr. USA would that have garnered a little more attention? I’ll never know.

Some additional information that may be useful is that I used free press release tools for this “campaign”. I wrote the press releases myself, taking guidance from the book I mentioned above and input from my sister in law (she really gets PR in a big way). I wrote the press releases in Microsoft Word and uploaded them to Scribed. I also released my press releases using prlog.com. I did some social bookmarking to get them indexed quickly in the search engines.

Is all traditional press dead?

What I observed in this experience may not be specific to newspapers, but more broadly indicative of a shift in how people consume information. For example, I’ve long been a critic of awful billboards. There just happen to be so many crappy billboards and not much else to do while driving. I think that a billboard is a fantastic place to advertise food, gas, and other services at an approaching exit, but it’s a terrible place to advertise a url for a website. I might be alone in this, but can you think of the last time you successfully made a mental note about a URL on a billboard and actually ended up visiting that website? I’m not sure I ever have?

I think there is a rift between online life and offline life. The offline methods of advertising may be just as effective as they ever have been, for traditional offline business needs. For example, a furniture company may find Newspapers and TV are just as effective today as they were years ago, but for the emerging online society, there appear to be some different patterns driving decision making and action.

For example, in the offline world of yesteryear, people were in the habit of making notes to remember something so they could get back to it later. In order to get a special deal you had to actually clip a coupon and place something physically in the mail. In that world, maybe a billboard with a good offer really would result in action.

But in our online world of today, there isn’t any reward for remembering things. Google has trained my generation to let the search engine keep track of the details so that we don’t have to. My mind can move as fast as a mouse click. The online advertising economy has had the peculiar focus of encouraging the click, so that content is structured to keep people in one place reading for the shortest amount of time possible. Even bookmarks (the online form of making a note) rarely get revisited, because we’ve grown so accustomed to searching right now for what we need right now.

To highlight that what I’m discussing may not be limited to newspapers take the group at howdoesshe.com. Just before Christmas they were featured on the local news television station. When I talked to one of the site owners after it aired I asked if they had seen a big traffic spike. She simply said NO. She went on to tell me that the biggest traffic spikes she gets are on days where she does a “post swap”. That’s where two sites write content for each other and include links back to the content providing site. It provides the audience at each site with a fresh voice and pulls some of that traffic over to the content partner’s site. It also provides a back link associated with high quality content.

Conclusion

There are apparent differences in the way online vs. offline habits affect traffic to specific sites on the internet. These differences appear to be influenced by habits related to search, and the scattered way in which most people “surf” the web. The web doesn’t reward a good memory or follow through. Instead it rewards impulsive, random clicking with a universal fall back on search.

From the two examples I mention in this post, the value of using offline press and publicity efforts to drive traffic online is low. The value appears to be low when it comes to both newspapers and TV. In both cases there appears to have been a disconnect between the offline news source and their online website that might have bridged the gap.

As always, please share your views and experience on this topic by leaving a comment below.

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2 Responses to “Are newspapers dead?”


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