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Strategic insights
Why Single Issue Sale is Wrong

Written by on March 23, 2011

As you may already know, The Wall Street Journal decided to begin selling individual copies of their morning paper on the iPad. You can still read all the top news for free. The single issue sale merely open up the rest of the content.

The content will be limited to what's published in the morning print edition, and will not be updated throughout the day.

It is insane. I wish newspapers would stop shooting themselves in the foot, and actually remember why they are publishing news in the first place.

Daily issues have always been a bad idea, even back in the days of print.

The newspaper industry have always been forced into a compromise. On one hand, newspapers wanted to bring people news as it happened, whenever it happened. That is the optimal product. "We bring you the latest news!"

But, on the other hand, news production and slow distribution meant that it was impossible to actually deliver news "as it happened."

So, the newspapers came up with the compromise of creating one newspaper per day. It was fast enough (especially before the telegraph) to keep people informed of recent events. And slow enough to give the newspapers time to produce and deliver it to the public.

It did, however, introduce a really big problem. News didn't happen in neat slots from 5 AM to 5 AM. News happens when it happens. The newspapers found themselves to either be a day late with the news, or worse, had to cut an article short, because the news really hadn't developed yet.

This was a necessary compromise, but it was far from the optimal solution. Due to the restrictions of print production, it was the best they could do.

Fast forward 200 years to 2011, and the newspaper industry seems to have completely forgotten what their product really is. It is not to create one newspaper per day. It is to bring you the news, as it happens.

Newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal, apparently believes that single issue sale is the right solution, rather than a compromise of the past. And customers, the people on the street, are left wondering, "why don't you just give us the news now?"

The internet has solved the past restrictions in terms of production and distribution. We don't have to group news articles in order to save on production. It makes no difference whether a story is published now, or 10 hours later with 100 other articles.

In fact, it reduces news consumption to group articles together. People are much more likely to read 100 articles if they are spread out over the course of the day (as news happens) than forcing them to read all 100 articles during their morning meal.

Single issue sale has always been the wrong thing to do!

What newspapers should do

Newspapers should adopt new models, like:

Subscriptions. both for the paper as a whole, but also consider smaller subscription packages for individual topics or sections.

Single access sale, but based on a topic rather than a period of time. Allow people to buy single access to all the stories about the conflict in Libya - continually updated as it happens.

Or access to just the finance section, or the analysis done by a certain group of editors.

Sell summaries. People are stressed out, and do not have time to read "all the news."

Instead of selling them a daily issue giving them access to everything, sell them summaries. A smaller newspaper that people can read whenever they like.

Something that provide them with a summary of what they need to know from the last time they visited. It is not daily issues. It is "this is what happened while you where away."

These summaries would go really well with the single access sale. People, who want more than just the summary, can then buy full access to all the articles about a given topic.

Note: The right price point is critical, as is intelligent discounts when people buy access to more than one topic.

We live in a world without the limitations of the past. Reintroducing them is not the solution.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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