I had some fascinating conversations in the past 24 hours with two senior newspaper executives about how the paid content discussion is really a proxy for Marketing 101:

  • What is the perceived value of what you do to customers?

     

  • What is the differentiating value of the content you produce? Quality? Surprise/delight? Context?

     

  • Can customers discern the differences between your USP and the package it comes in?

     

Newspapers are to publishers what trucking is to FedEx. They’re in the delivery business, and if technology allowed them to drop their trucks they’d do it overnight.

While we can bias eyeballs and advertising opportunities toward what pays the bills today (print), both executives acknowledge they are only nominally in charge anymore. We can no longer decide for our customers what mechanism they use to consumer our USP. They're doing a better and better job of telling us how they prefer to consume our content.

I tested similar lines of thinking last week speaking to the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) in Monterey. And CEOs agreed.

Whether you actually decide to charge for online content is irrelevant. The act of considering such a model and the strategic conversation about the value of your content can be transformative for newsmedia companies looking for a culture spark.