As a fan of newspapers, I live in fear that small newspapers like this one are doomed. It wasn’t that long ago that the Daily Press published five times a week and had a monthly arts magazine. Now we get three paper-papers a week. Still, our small paper is doing better than most.
Fortunately, I have the solution. I got this idea when Amazon.com owner Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. Although I didn’t own a newspaper at that time, I lied about that (and a lot more) in a business proposal I sent him. Here’s my promising idea — which he probably never saw.
Dear Mr. Bezos,
Congratulations on purchasing the Washington Post. You join me as the owner of a failing newspaper. But this proposal can bring us both fortune and success.
My newspaper is the Rock City Herald. We serve a New Mexico county of 30,000 with a county seat of 10,000. Our town’s business community is suffering, and so is the paper’s ad income. We have local reporters, but it’s a struggle to pay them competitively.
We had to slash our news because we couldn’t find ads. We’re a daily paper — well, some days. We used to print national wire stories, but that’s fading. We were barely paying the bills before I came up with this brilliant idea.
Our new joint venture will be the Rock City Herald with Washington Post. We’ll have national and international news from you, and local news from us. Same thing everywhere: We’ll have local and national sports, your national ads, our local ads, your comics, our legal notices, our weather, your stocks.
Our readers will get a prestigious national newspaper. You have a few digital subscribers in Rock City, but they would prefer a paper edition with local news. Now they can have it — news, arts and analysis from you, and better local reporting because we can pay for it.
Financially, the plan gets more advertising and more subscriptions. Your national ads will reach new subscribers, enabling you to charge more. We deserve a bit of your ad money. We’ll also sell our local ads for more because we’ll bring more value — which will increase our circulation. You get a piece of that. Our readers get more, but the paper is still a manageable size without your D.C.-area ads and content.
Of course, this doesn’t work for just us. We’d like to be your test case, but you have to do the same for thousands of small newspapers with millions of subscribers. The Rock City Herald would still be my newspaper, and my staff would still put it together every day — but with your content included.
You have digital subscriptions with paywalls to keep non-subscribers out, but paywalls annoy your writers and decrease the value for advertisers. But with millions of small-town readers, you can become a national newspaper for everybody, not just the elite. Instead of 3 million digital subscribers at $10 a month, you could get tens of millions for $2 a month.
And where did I get this bright idea? From you — from Amazon.com. We used to have a record and CD shop in Rock City. We used to have a bookstore with new books. They used to advertise in our paper. But those shops are gone, thanks to your competition.
On the other hand, I can now buy a tri-blade plastic spiral vegetable slicer delivered in two days. You figured out how to bring consumer madness to culture-starved towns while gutting our economies. We used to collect taxes from local stores, but the taxes from you come indirectly, if at all.
You already know this model. Many used book and CD stores in Rock City (and throughout America) partner with Amazon.com to sell their over- flow. You want to be the market for everything. Well, you can sell news in the same way.
So. I’m ready. I want to be your partner, not your victim.
OK. There is no Rock City, N.M., and no Rock City Herald. I don’t own a newspaper, but I know someone who does.
This is just one wild dream of how small towns can live with Amazon.com (and Walmart). It’s the kind of newspaper I’d like to read, but getting it through the owner of Amazon might have side effects.
Is Amazon a blessing or a curse? Or both? With my Amazon Prime subscription, I’m trying to take advantage of Amazon individually while they try to take advantage of us collectively. Is this Amazon model the salvation of newspapers? Or is it safer for the news to adjust in other ways?
Change is coming. You read it here first.