Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A business tougher than ours.

I just got back from The Gazette, where I was asked to do a usability test on one of their new products, iGuide. It was flattering to be asked to be part of the test, and I tried to do my "job" by not holding back and being as blatantly honest as I could be.

I had a great conversation with Rob, the guy running the test. He's been at the Gazette for 10 years, and we talked a lot about how the old business model for media businesses like theirs is dying, and replacing it with a new business model is difficult because it requires a culture shift.

Now, it is tough to succeed in the theater business. Anyone who thinks we're walking away from each event with sacks of cash would be horrified at how razor-thin the margins are, and how contributions from individuals and businesses will always be a part of our business model. But as tough as this is, it can't be nearly as tough as being in the newspaper business.

I feel for Rob and for the Gazette, who are scrambling to be relevant in this new age of media and still be able to pay the bills - and to even turn a profit. Gazette probably has it better than most, with the paper, KCRG,, Hoopla and the new iGuide. Slightly more diversified than some others.

But still - circulation heading south*, paid advertising heading south*, trying to develop new products to replace that revenue... many of these products are online, in an environment that is notoriously hard to monetize (Rob hates this word, most likely because it runs rampant around the office). Money going out, paying the web developers, but not enough money coming in*. May be months/years before the sites catch on, become part of the community, and start bringing in a little money. Of course, that's if they're lucky.

It must be very difficult.

No point to this post, other than to say that I enjoyed doing the testing (it's fun to be on the OTHER side of that scenario, as I start redesigning our own website), Rob was a cool guy, and I wish them the best with their new venture. I think we all benefit -- as businesses, consumers and citizens -- from smart and innovative local media coverage. The challenge -- after making it relevant -- is making a living from it.


  • Check out Todd Adamson's blog for some great pics he took of Dr. John and The Neville Brothers last Friday night!
  • I gave Dr. John a ride to and from his hotel. He was very gracious, had an almost unintelligible drawl, and told me a story involving Eddie Bo, Little Richard, adultery, murder, death row and lawsuits -- and even threw in some singing -- in the 5 minutes he was in my car.
  • A pretty small number of tickets for the Alley Cabaret's performance of The Vagina Monologues go on sale Monday, which is unusual (the rest of the Cabarets have tix at the door only). It's directed by our newest board member, Ryan West.

* UPDATE: I should note that these comments are about the newspaper industry in general, and not the Gazette specifically. I have no idea what the Gazette's numbers are. But it's been
widely reported that the industry as a whole is experiencing challenges.

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