Yesterday's Newspaper

Reading Upside Down
Creative Commons License photo credit: garryknight

First we got the news that the San Diego Union Tribune is on the auction block. Now we hear about the demise of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Real Estate section.

Now, I do not profess to be a marketing genius, but I do have a couple of ideas about what might have gone wrong. I have some ideas because, in many ways, I am the newspaper.

Up until about a year ago, Steve and I were still money-bleeding, staunch supporters of advertising in the Sunday Real Estate section. My logic was that if there was one person out there still reading the paper, then it was incumbent on me as an agent to expose my client’s home to that one person. Further, I argued that our in-line ads could include our web site address, thereby cross-promoting our brand and our homes.

Here’s what went wrong. Because readership was down, the newspaper folks decided it was time to raise our rates. This flies in the face of supply and demand, of course. An analogy is the message we deliver to our selling clients along with our feedback reports. The buyers may be saying that your yard is too small, your kitchen is too dated, or your garage is too “two-car” versus three, but it is amazing how many objections are overcome the minute the price becomes compelling. If your home is not selling, you don’t raise the price; you lower it. The Union Tribune missed the memo.

Then there was the issue of the tail wagging the dog. When it suddenly became apparent that the Internet wasn’t going away, they made it mandatory that every open house ad placed be accompanied by a paid ad in SignOnSanDiego, their on-line companion. I couldn’t run one without the other. Now, I understand the goal. Seeing the writing on the wall, they wanted to populate their on-line site. Since all I really wanted at this point was an ad in SignOnSanDiego, not in the newspaper that no one was reading anymore, wouldn’t it have made infinitely more sense to give one or the other away for free? Then, everyone wins. 

Finally, there was this ostrich mentality. With heads firmly stuck in the rocky, San Diego soil, they thought that they could ignore the Internet groundswell and make it go away. On numerous occasions, we submitted press releases only to see them published absent our web site or blog site addresses. This was presumably done thinking that promoting web presence might diminish the value of the print medium. All the while, ironically, the Real Estate section in particular and the paper in general were being filled with articles with a purposely negative slant; bad real estate news was embellished and, when there was none, seemingly fabricated. While the Real Estate section had arguably been their cash cow, they appeared to do everything they could to bite the hands that were feeding them.

So, I am the newspaper. The only difference is that I am not for sale, and I am doing what our newspaper should have done years ago. We still spend buckets of money on print advertising, but we have also had the foresight over the past couple of years to entertain and embrace new ways of reaching our audience. Our print materials will continue to be an essential as long as there is one person who isn’t comfortable with a computer, but our print efforts partner with our on-line presence (and the other way around). One hand feeds the other, and one doesn’t have to go away. If we can effectively integrate both, we expand our reach, our effectiveness, and our success.

The demise of our old ways of doing business makes me sad on some level, certainly. Steve still trudges to the driveway each morning for his news printed on stock of tree-origin, and he does this because it is familiar and comfortable, while I am at the same time booting my computer for my daily dose of goings on. But much like Steve with his newspaper and me with my laptop, Anderson Cooper with his computer in front of him while we watch him on TV, and the Ikea catalogue in my mailbox and in my inbox, we are at a crossroads. Those who are able to successfully marry the two media will survive. Everyone else will be yesterday’s newspaper.

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