Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why The Austin American-Statesman Lives On




While doing some research, I ran across an Austin blogger who insists that the end is near for newspapers. He was ready to write RIP on the walls of the Austin American-Statesman.

Well, it is true that these are challenging times of transition for the Austin American-Statesman and others. Some, indeed, will not survive. Some have already gone to that great periodical library in the sky. Just because some newspapers are gone and others are in trouble does not mean that all of them are. Further, this transition may mean change, and what emerges may be a different medium than the one that lands in the driveway (if you’re lucky) every day. I am not ready to predict the newspaper product’s characteristics. I do believe that it will include subscribers and advertising.

The blogger pointed out the obvious. Classified ads and real estate ads have all but disappeared from the American-Statesman. True. Craig’s list and Internet sites do the job better and cheaper. I, however, did sell a guitar using the statesman.com classifieds. Call it loyalty. And, since I wasn’t asking much, it was free. I also sold a truck through Craig’s List. Whatever works.

Corresponding today with an online journalist, I used these words, which I consider to be truisms:
> Content is king. When an audience finds the content that they want and need, they'll use/read that medium.

> Also, there must be a clear difference between these online destinations. The difference will develop into a personality, a brand.

> And finally, there must be a revenue stream to maintain presence.

The Austin American-Statesman printed version is constantly driving the audience to statesman .com or Austin360.com. Their email headlines send readers both places. Readers know what they are going to get with they arrive. What are they going to get? Content. Demographics may determine which medium the reader uses, but the reader is looking for content. That makes the A/S the gorilla in the room, and the room is the Austin market. As noted in a post a few months ago, the American-Statesman is actually growing a consuming audience for its content.

Now some of this is a necessary rehash. The final point, the need for a revenue stream, is new and possibly unique to the A/S. The American-Statesman has monster printing presses and they are used for far more things that printing its own newspaper. Yes, we’re talking about printing, not posting.

Including the Austin American-Statesman, they print nearly 30 other publications, according to Bob Tucker, vice president of operations: AAS, ahora si, Bastrop Advertiser, Lake Travis View, North Lake Travis Log, Pflugerville Pflag, Round Rock Leader, Smithville Times, West Lake Picayune, Leander Ledger, Cedar Park Citizen, New York Times, Austin Chronicle, The Onion, The San Antonio Current, Rumbo, Houston, Tiger Weekly, Baton Rouge, Slaughter Creek Reporter, Boy Scouts-Austin area, Brushy Creek Parks and Recreation, Texas Workforce Commission-3 titles, State of Texas Comptrollers Department, Southwest Cycling, The Jewish Outlook, Aviva (name changed to ToDo Austin), and starting this month- The Daily Texan.

Cox, the American-Statesman’s parent company right now owns several of those suburban newspapers, but note that the A/S also prints The Austin Chronicle and The Daily Texan.

Wait. I am not finished. The A/S has a built-in distribution system, right? So, in addition to delivery of their newspaper, they deliver nearly two-dozen publications, according to Harry Davis, vice-president of circulation: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Journal, San Antonio Express News, Financial Times, Barron’s, Jewish Outlook, River Cities Daily Tribune, Bastrop Advertiser, Cedar Park Citizen, Leander Ledger, Lake Travis Log, Lave Travis View, Round Rock Leader, Pflugerville Pflag, Smithville Times, Westlake Picayune, Ahora Si, Tribeza Magazine, Austin Women Magazine, Country Living (local), Apartment Newsletters (to 11,000 units), and Brilliant Magazine.

Seen enough? There is one other aspect of the Austin American-Statesman that often goes overlooked—Its location. If for no other reason than location, location, location, the A/S is worth a ton of money. The newspaper headquarters is on the south shores of Lady Bird Lake just east of Congress Avenue. I remember when they were downtown around the 400 block of Guadalupe. That was a pretty good location back then too.

This gorilla may change; it is not going away any time soon. It also explains why it is taking such a long time to consumate the sale of the newspaper.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Lance said...

Nothing beats a Night Hawk booth, a good cup of coffee, and a fresh Statesman.

Anonymous said...

Reporters need to do a better job of covering stories that affect readers' lives and stories with great human interest appeal.

Instead, too many reporters are focused on covering stories that matter to judges in competitions — competitions that are judged by peers, not be readers.

The Austin American-Statesman does a fairly good job, but it sometimes spends too much time on covering government stories without using a specific example or examples of real people and how they are affected by what the government is doing.

Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting read. Though, your main point of the Statesman constantly driving readers to the Web site is moot, as newspaper readers realizing they can just get the SAME articles online for free is a huge blow. Eventually, people will get upset at paying for news when they've been shown that they can get it for free.

Aren't there discussions everyday to see if printing the Daily Texan (a free newspaper mind you) is actually profitable for them? I remember reading an article discussing moving the printing to another location before.

The Statesman does well reporting. Though, there is some trimming of the fat that is needed in that newsroom.