SocraticGadfly: Dallas Morning News to take 3rd stab at paywall next year and other Belo fun

December 02, 2015

Dallas Morning News to take 3rd stab at paywall next year and other Belo fun

Regular readers of this blog, especially media news followers, will the great degree of hilarity with which I have greeted previous Snooze attempts to implement a paywall, followed by rejection of them. I wrote just three months ago about the Snooze/Belo anti-paywall stance, shortly after wondering if the paper's slouching toward Gomorrah had increased.

After their second paywall faded away, they tried a "premium website" model, which then flopped. It flopped for very good reasons.

So, when Belo announced it would take another crack next year, I was skeptical.

Jim Moroney is right that for a regional daily, even a large one like the Snooze, digital advertising and digital circulation alone isn't enough to offset print revenue declines in those two areas.

He ignores that having a paywall on the digital side can help stanch hardcopy circulation declines, though. (Why pay for a hardcopy newspaper when I can get it online for free, after all?) That, in turn, arguably would stanch the decline in hardcopy advertising. (The Snooze, while not as bad as the Austin American Statesman, had a paid adhole of just 25 percent on a mid-November Thursday of random choice from my recent browsing at a nearby library. That's throwing out full house ads and semi-house ads, but counting obits as paid ad inches. Those are not good numbers for a Thursday. For a Tuesday, they would be; probably for a Wednesday. Bit skimpy for a Thursday, though.)

He admits the Snooze has blown it on execution on the previous two paywall shots. He also says even a New York Times isn't at the point it could be digital only. Agreed, Jim, and nobody's saying that.

That said, Moroney also plans to keep putting eggs in other baskets:
Publisher Jim Moroney III has led the paper’s two-year-old acquisition strategy under parent company A.H. Belo. He says this tactic — aggressively seeking out marketing, data and innovative search companies to complement its existing business strengths — is what the DMN needs to sufficiently diversify its revenue base. 

In the interview, he doesn't detail how successful this has or has not been so far. Nor does he detail what conflicts of interest this might already involve. After all, it's just one step from marketing to public relations — long known as the "dark side" to journalists. 

He goes on:
We have not stopped looking since we started this two years ago. We still have an investment banker helping us go look for acquisitions in the categories of data analytics, marketing automation platform companies, very sophisticated search companies. We’ve looked at direct mail and outdoor, video production for advertising purposes, companies that can build apps and websites and improve them — all the kinds of marketing services that our current customers either are using or [to which] we want to introduce them. 
OK, the first question is: Why would a Snooze advertiser use your marketing (or PR) services rather than someone else's in DFW? Are you offering package deals? At what discount? If so, how much does that bring the ethics issue up?

Other than that, again, why would they want you? "Because we're A.H. Belo!"? "Because we're the Dallas Morning News!"? That type of thinking has led to some of the problems in the first place.

Direct mail? Jim, that's the fricking dinosaur age, first. Second, the last thing a lot of people what is the Snooze cluttering their mailboxes.

Outdoor? I don't think folks like Lamar are doing that well as we speak. What makes you think significant money is out there?

Web design, etc.? What do you think you bring that established companies don't already offer? 

Moroney then says, Oh, hey, we're debt-free, etc.

Yea? That's because you're a one-newspaper "newspaper company," in essence, not counting the spinoff products there in Dallas. Selling Providence, Riverside, etc., cleaned up your debt but left you with no margin for further error. And, the guy you sold Riverside to filed for bankruptcy, so good luck getting all the money he paid, if it wasn't up front, which I certainly presume it wasn't.

And, the interviewer gives him a pass on this.

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