Why people had to have a paper today, and what does that tell us about a business model?

Photo by Adam Fagan

Photo by Adam Fagan

I’m hearing and reading a lot today from people, largely inside the newspaper business, who say today’s coast-to-coast sellout of newspapers proves that people really do respect the power of the newspaper and that the public maintains an emotional connection with the paper that lives just below the surface, ready to be reborn with the right stimulus.

I think that overreaches. I do, however, believe we were shown some key facts today that just might serve as guideposts for newspapers looking to pump some life back into the print edition. Here’s what I believe we saw:

If you have created something people want…

And if it better suits their purposes in paper form than in electronic form...

Then they will buy your paper.

Notice there’s nothing in there about emotional connections or even journalism. The people buying papers today had an emotional connection with Barack Obama, not the paper. They used the paper as a permanent, undeniable record of the moment. Look how many people you can find in flickr posing with the paper, in the mirror image of a hostage photo taken to prove the captive was still alive on a particular day. The paper better serves this purpose than a print-out of a web page. It’s more real, it’s cheap, and it is easily portable through time.

Of course, we all joked that this solves the newspaper industry’s business model crisis: simply have Barack Obama win the election every single day from now until the end of time. Funny. But we need to ask how we can fulfill the logical flowchart above in smaller ways on a daily basis.

We spend so much time thinking about how to make digital better than print, but if we’re going to keep print alive or even turn it around, we need to ask ourselves in what ways can print be a better delivery vehicle than digital? Are there ways in which the daily paper can better suit some readers’ need than digital can? And, if so, is that how we are focusing our newspaper efforts?

What do you think?

Tim Windsor