President Harry Truman used to joke that he wanted "a one-handed economist."
The nations top economic advisers would provide analysis, make budget projections, and offer projections about the nation's economic health.
Then the economists would say, "But, on the other hand … " and provide Truman with several different economic scenarios, all of which were contrary to their primary analysis.
I think many folks in the newspaper industry are in the same quandary. It's hard to do any planning without any one-handed economists to help us.
My friends throughout the industry repeat the same themes:
1. We're hopeful - but not sure - that the economy is going to recover.
2. Without a bounce in the economy, we're afraid to raise advertising rates because our retail customers aren't doing well.
3. We've made budget over the last several years by cutting expenses, and we wonder if any more cuts are possible without doing serious harm to the product and the staff's morale.
4. Newsprint prices are expected to rise in the coming year. (Low newsprint prices saved us last year.)
5. We've got to grow revenues without increasing expenses.
I would suggest you look to increased revenue from your Internet products.
Let's review the basics: Almost all of you own the Internet franchises in your trade areas. One-third of your Internet traffic is on your classified pages (you are a market place). People use the Internet to shop and buy products, especially women, young people and people at work. Your online newspaper's web traffic has likely doubled or tripled in the last couple of years (while your print product may have declined). Most of your customers/advertisers believe that online circulation is as important as print circulation - even if you don't.
How have you leveraged your ownership of the Internet franchise? Answer the following questions:
1. Have you increased the price of classified liners and posted them on your online edition? (Almost all newspapers should answer yes.)
2. Have you reviewed the surcharge for online classifieds in recent years. (Many newspapers have not raised this surcharge, even though their online circulation has doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in the last three or four years.)
3. Have you sold banner ads and sponsorships? (Most papers have sold some, but without knowing how to price, so most banners are sold too cheaply, and prices are rarely reviewed.)
4. Have you posted your classified display ads to the Internet for a surcharge? (I'd guess about 10 percent of you will answer "Yes," which puzzles me, considering the huge success of posting classified liners to the Internet.)
5. Have you posted special sections to the Internet with a nice Web surcharge? (My guess is that only about 5 percent of you will answer "Yes," even though special sections often make splendid Internet content and generate easy revenue.)
I suspect most of you scored under 50. The good news is a low score means you've got great potential for increased revenue and profits.
You can make your year.