Death of a milk cow

drdenny has some useful analysis on the recent decision by the two Detroit dailies to sell their front page to Marshall Field’s. And he’s more than right.

The viability of the paper as an ad medium is precisely equal to its ability to attract readers. And readers are attracted by meaningful content. Publishers need to remember that most consumers buy a paper (or watch a TV show, listen to a radio station, etc.) despite the advertising (I mean, this isn’t a new concept, and they have heard of TiVo, I’m guessing). The more closely we associate a medium with advertising, the less value it has to advertisers.

However, publisher stupidity lately seems to vary directly with their desperation. Revenues are down, desperation rises inversely, triggering a new fit of short-sighted idiocy, etc. Which drives down revenues, and around we go.

What’s perhaps most troubling in all this isn’t publisher behavior, though. What really causes me to wonder is advertiser behavior. Marshall Field’s got a big pop, in theory, in buying the front page (or maybe they merely turned a few thousand people into brand terrorists – hard to say just yet), but in doing so, they eroded the future value of the same medium. They have become like a parasite that slowly kills off its host. If they help turn papers into nothing more than ad circulars, they destroy what has always been a very valuable medium, and in doing so, they damage their own ability to reach their audience.

I don’t expect much out of newspaper publishers these days. But advertisers are supposed to be pretty savvy types, innately evil and armed to the teeth with volumes of expensive, top-secret proprietary research that surpass in complexity anything we’ll ever have access to here on the outside. As such, they should know better than to sacrifice their milk cow.

Then again, maybe their research does tell them more than we know. And maybe what they know is that the milk cow is as good as dead, so they might as well start hacking it up for whatever meat is left on its bones….

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