Newspapers should make more money with their brand

I’m betting that a revenue model for newspapers will develop in the coming years -whether it be as a nonprofit or whether online advertising can be revolutionized. Many general interest newspapers will be lost, but a tier will remain for at least some time, I think.

But, gosh, I wish more newspapers would make the most of these uncertain times. No newspaper do I write more often about, criticize or compliment more, than the Philadelphia Inquirer – because it’s big, historic, once among the world’s best, my hometown paper and the only one for which I ever personally had a subscription.

I always say, though, that these lessons can go for all newspapers.

The Inquirer is powered mostly by Philly.com, a separate company within Inqy-parent Philadelphia Media Holdings. Philly.com does video and promotion well, but I fear often does so at the expense at the historic and once treasured Inqy brand (and there are other lessons to be learned about increasing viewership by opening dissemination). I think there is a wealth of money to be made from that brand, but I don’t believe any real effort has been made, and I’m hardly the first person to suggest it.

If Philly.com is so separate from the Inquirer and its awkward sister the Philadelphia Daily News – I’ve posted before on how Philly.com, the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News are related – then I think it’s time the Inqy tried to bring in some cash outside of plummeting advertising and declining subscription revenue. The Inquirer really needs to develop an attitude of pride, but assuming that isn’t coming bringing in some cash can’t hurt.

Philly.com has a shopping page, and the Inqy does sell some archived front pages – I have seen it, though I can’t find it quickly enough now to believe it’s done effectively.

So let’s do it better.

Screw the hiring freeze, the Inquirer should hire someone with publishing background whose only job is to find profitable ways to repackage old content. Newspapers can sell as souveniers, particularly historic packages. Could we see a collection of Inqy Pulitzer Prize-winning stories? What about the 50 most important Philadelphia moments during the past 180 years and how the Inquirer covered it? We’ve seen those popular neighborhood books – another way, like Craigslist – that newspapers let competition move into what could have been an industry they could have owned. Could the Inquirer make some neighborhood specific books of their coverage? Tell me folks wouldn’t buy, “Roxborough: as covered by the Inquirer for 180 years.”

I did once see a book of historic photos from Inqy photogs. Hmm, I wonder where Philly.com is making use of affiliate links or boosting it on its site. CNN got some criticism for selling T-shirts with its headlines, but welcome to the Internet, where small profit margins can work. Why doesn’t the Inquirer try something similar, making use of its history, its brand, its masthead and its knowledge of the city – just like I think the city’s police and fire departments should. This might even be a competition between the Inqy and Philly.com because who is more an institution for this city? Why doesn’t Philly.com try to hawk all of that merchandise – SEPTA, PPD, city maps, neighborhood books and T-shirts and more.

The Inquirer has, um, sorta made inroads of monetizing its columnists, but, gosh, even that seemed embarrassing. What a mess the summer 2007 spectacle became of the Inqy trying to antholoize columns by John Grogan – who probably made enough bank on his novel turned movie Marley & Me to rival a small nation’s gross domestic product. But then, one of the 10 best Philly books of all time is a collection of Steve Lopez’s columns. Craig Laban wrote a freakin’ kick ass Philly restaurant-review book – with the Inqy masthead on the cover.

Well, jees, Inqy, you own these columns, why don’t you have a crap load of them? I just figure nearly two centuries of photos, investigative reporting, and insight should mean a bit more than it does.

Can we use that Inqy masthead better? It still means something – I don’t want to discuss how much of that meaning has been lost in the past 15 years or more, though. Why isn’t someone hawking historically-related Inqy memorabilia like I have seen from other big newspapers, like this. We’ve seen the Inquirer umbrellas, with comics from Tony Auth. That’s the idea, but OK, now try to buy one online in under, oh let’s say, 35 minutes. Yeah.

Use your history and promote your talent. Philly.com is looking for syndication of its products, like Uncorked. It’s a new game, and the regional-only, news game isn’t it anymore.

Photo from the Guardian.