America East Newspaper Show: The ’Big Database Strategy’

The America East show  the largest regional event in the U.S. newspaper industry  took place last week in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with 1,200-plus attendees. I'd sum it up by saying that the attendees’ mostly small and medium-sized markets remain relatively insulated from Internet competition, especially compared with larger markets. But Craigslist is already hitting markets as small as Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, (pop. 41,000), and there is general acceptance that Yahoo! and Google will have their impact too.

Ottaway Newspapers' Kurt Lozier says his chain of mostly northeast and Oregon newspapers, owned by Dow Jones, is fighting back against Craigslist and others with a “Big Database Strategy” that offers free listings to businesses in hopes of winning upsells. The listings are free, “but we're selling the white space around them,” he says. Looking beyond directories, Lozier says that “employment and rentals are not far behind.”

Bob Kellegher from Calkins Media, the chain of suburban Philadelphia newspapers responsible for Phillyburbs.com, is pursuing a similar strategy. He says Calkins had suffered “a big drop-off in volume” with the arrival of various Web competition, etc., but a recently executed free strategy has won the chain a growth rate of impressions of more than 40 percent. “You have to have an audience to have an upsell,” he notes with satisfaction.

Kellegher also talked about Phillyburbs’ “JobSearch TV,” powered by Digital Media Communications, which produces video-like ads using stock footage. At a production cost of $75 per customer, he says it is just 1/10 the cost of a custom video effort, with results that aren't substantively different. Moreover, the company's turnaround is just 48 hours.

At the show, I had the privilege of giving the opening keynote (PowerPoint, PDF and flash versions available here, scroll down). None of it will be especially eyeopening to regular readers, but I focused on all the real ways newspaper can adapt to a situation where Yahoo! and Google are “the environment” (SEO/SEM, vertical extensions, classified partnerships, small business focus, and using the sales forces to sell across the board). Beth Lawton from the NAA wrote up my talk.

The conference organizers generously gave me a gigantic 5 lb. Hershey Bar for coming east. Attendees of Kelsey Local '07 next week will find (most of it) on the registration desk.

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