Profitable Newspaper: Hold the Presses!

  |  April 25, 2013   |  Comments

How did the San Diego Union-Tribune become a double-digit profitable newspaper?

I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, transparency, data, and customer centricity have always been the pillars upon which I've built my philosophy of better products, better marketing, better business.

But you could have snapped a photo of me with my mouth hanging open as I listened to Joseph Gordon, director of research at the San Diego Union-Tribune, present at the eMetrics Summit in San Francisco last week.

It reminded me of the time Jim Novo interrupted an eMetrics Summit speaker for a clarification and then posted his surprise/delight as his "#1 eMetrics Takeaway" to the Yahoo Web Analytics Forum in 2006:

ford-logo"Ford Motor Company...this gigantic metal-bender with very long lead times is actually using this web data to modify production plans because it has been such a reliable predictor of demand...If Stacey [Coopes, then senior vice president of strategic development, now CEO at FordDirect] can make this kind of thing happen at Ford, you can do it where you are."

That had reminded me of a story told by Ronny Kohavi (then vice president, business intelligence at Blue Martini Software, now partner architect at Microsoft) at the 2003 eMetrics Summit about a Canadian sporting goods company, MEC. Ronny said that MEC built an entire store based on usage data on its website. This was positively heretical in 2003.



Of course web data should be used to drive business. I've always thought so.

When Pelin Thorogood, CEO of database company Anametrix and an old friend, told me about her client, Joseph Gordon, I was skeptical. When I talked to him on the phone, I was intrigued. Why then was I so astounded to hear him tell his story?

Well, I mean...really...a profitable newspaper? Surely you jest.

They could only do that if:

They publish near real-time readership data for all of their writers to see, thereby creating a competitive environment while maintaining high journalistic (editorial) integrity


They publish near real-time advertising data for all their advertisers to see, thereby allowing them to optimize their ad spend while maintaining high publisher integrity.

Authors (and management) see a daily dashboard that captures and compares individual article traffic by date, duration (how long an article produces views), which resonate with the readers, which headlines attract attention, which ignite social engagement, which are picked up by other sites, the number of pages readers follow the story, across registered (paid) readers vs. unpaid readers, by topic category.

The advertising? The San Diego Union-Tribune owns a local cable channel as well, broadcasting and live-streaming local news 12 hours a day. Advertisers can see how many people streamed their ads, which gets correlated to the Nielsen overnights and to the ads seen on the web by the same individuals.

The result is a double-digit profitable newspaper.

When the San Diego Union-Tribune put up a pay wall last year, it experienced less than half the loss of page views when compared to other newspaper properties. News content increased 10 percent the next month and 5 percent the following month.ut-san-diego

And the newspaper has done all of this (so far) without even being aware of the Visual Revenue decision support platform for editors. Imagine what tomorrow will bring.

In closing, I'd like to answer a question posed by Neil Mason in his ClickZ column: "Are the Analysts Getting Closer to the C-Suite?"

Yes we are, Neil. Oh, yes we are.


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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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