Paper to wires to wireless

Way back in the beginning of newspapers on the internet, my children, lots of companies thought they’d make their money as ISPs. It was the clearest demonstration that they thought of themselves as distribution companies rather than trust companies. One of the biggest efforts at starting a newspaper ISP was Infinet, which was offered by lots of papers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, but not by the papers I worked with. I argued against it. There was no way that papers could compete at scale with giants like AOL. And I said that the economics would be a killer because of subscriber acquisition costs, churn, and big investments in both technology and customer service. This, I argued — successfully — is not what a newspaper is about. For once, I was right. Newspaper ISPs died, one by one. Note the irony that Philadelphia will now be one of the first cities to offer free and ad-supported municipal wireless across the town.

Now Paid Content reports that The Pilot in North Carolina is going to offer wi-fi access from its headquarters and then in public places across its market. So a newspaper is in the distribution business again. But there’s a difference: This time, it’s not an effort to get the online version of circulation revenue from consumers. This will be free.

Is it smart? Dunno yet. On the one hand, a newspaper would be damned wise to find ways to provide extra service to local users: ‘Get my free wi-fi and get my local content and take my ads.’ On the other hand, it’s just another distribution play in a world that will value distribution less and less and newspapers have tried this before. What do you think?

  • I think you’re only thinking in terms of the big cities. The Pilot doesn’t serve a big city, but a small community (it’s published three days a week). I’d wager there are significant roadblocks to getting broadband penetration in the area (I’m in upstate S.C. and I can’t get broadband without satellite because cable and dsl don’t come on my street). This effort will help bring that access to the community.

    Also, as Mindy McAdams noted, this effort will allow the paper to bring its content before the eyes of anyone who logs on, thus bringing eyeballs to advertisers.

    In the end, this distribution effort will aid them in building trust in their community, and it’s something that should be applauded.

  • I wrote about this here.

    Wi-fi alone is of limited value. If it’s just about a new way of distributing content, who cares. But ties some social networking, some buddying finding, some merchant finding/coupons, and other geo-based services, as well as USG … now you’re onto something.

    You get to use the service for free if you participate in the community.

  • jr

    Great analysis

  • My newest hobby is Blog reads that is more intresanter than newspapers or television. in the between time I spend already 4-5 hours at the computer. Writes firmly thereby I also still enough-end to read has.

  • Ed Rusch

    “On the one hand, a newspaper would be damned wise to find ways to provide extra service to local users: ‘Get my free wi-fi and get my local content and take my ads.’”

    Those second and third “ands” don’t logically follow from the first.

  • WiFi as this North Carolina newspaper is offering is a valuable service but one quickly becoming a commodity; WiFi likely will be replaced within a few years anyway. So, this newspaper is stuck in legacy mode: investing in business extensions that will eventually go away. It’s a short-term play at best.

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  • The newspaper is a collection of functions, all of which are affected by the Internet. It’s “newsroom” and “production” and, of course circulation. Whether you are a big paper or small paper is less relevant than are you doing the best job you can be doing in connecting readers with the community, every day. If more papers had all of their departments re-examining the “everyday newspaper occasion” I think there would be a greater appreciation of the value locked up in today’s newspaper organization.

  • I live in France, where a lot of rural areas can only dream about broadband, wi-fi, wi-max. I occasionnal work for a community newspaper in one such area. There would be eternal gratitude (if such things exist in business) or at least a lasting bond between readers and a rural newspaper that offered this deal.

  • Pingback: Atrium - Media e Cidadania » Reposicionar o jornal na comunidade()

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