If you regularly read this blog, you've heard me opine that living in Detroit in this economy often feels a lot like being at "ground zero." As tough as it may be wherever you are reading this, it's a few clicks more desperate - and insane - here.
Consider: Our mayor recently went to jail - before resigning because of a text messaging sex scandal. Our core economic base - cars and trucks - is in the throes of bankruptcy. Our football team just went 0-16. We are in danger of losing the North American International Auto Show - here in DETROIT!!! - because our City Council meetings resemble mud wrestling tournaments.
But if you do morning radio here in Detroit, it's a fountain of great material. Whether you're Mike Clark, Deminski & Doyle, Dick Purtan, or Paul W. Smith, there is never a shortage of things to talk about, parody, or stir up on the phones.
There's only one problem, especially for a fiftysomething guy like me.
We don't have a newspaper in this town anymore. Oh sure, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press still publish, sort of. But home delivery is down to three days a week. On the other four days, you either pick up an abbreviated edition at newsstands. Or you still subscribe so you can go to a website where you can still read "the paper." Or you can go to www.freep.com and read a less detailed web edition.
In short, it sucks. Because reading a daily newspaper is a habit that you just cannot practice on certain days of the week when it economically suits the Detroit Media Partnership, the company that now runs the business operations of both papers. And the only real alternative - the suburban daily, the Observer Eccentric papers - shut down last week.
So, you know what's happening? I'm getting out of the newspaper habit. I find I'm reading the Sunday paper, but I'm even losing interest in it.
And yet, all kinds of things are occurring in Detroit. Major films are being made here, under the auspices of the Michigan Film Office. The Wings and Pistons are in the playoffs. The NFL Draft is this weekend, and you never know what the Lions are thinking. Will GM have to declare bankruptcy? But I'm not reading about these events in any paper. I'm sort of web wandering to find the news.
This isn't how the Detroit Media Partnership planned it. I'm supposed to get hooked on the online subscriber model, and pay for my web version of the Free Press.
It's not happening. I appreciate how newspapers are grappling with trying to find a viable business model. As we have often discussed in this space. Radio better be taking copious notes while we watch newspaper companies flail away at different concepts and monetization strategies.
To some degree, our new Tech Poll speaks volumes about the dilemma being faced by big newspapers. Overall, less than 60% of our respondents say they now read a daily paper on a regular basis, with the highest readership coming from upper demos people like me. And among 18-34s, less than half now read a newspaper with regularity.
But here's the rub:
Among the heavier 25-54 readers, half lean toward the print format. Among the lightest newspaper fans, it's reversed as they skew toward the online edition. And yet, the Detroit papers are trying to entice their most regular readers toward a format they are less likely to embrace. What a mess.
And then I started thinking what would happen if an embattled radio company took the same approach as the Detroit Media Partnership. Imagine if your favorite radio station made this announcement:
Because of the economy, we can no longer afford to broadcast seven days a week. So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, we're shutting off the transmitter. But you can still access us on our websites. The same great programming, but on those days, you'll have to listen to us online.
We may be moving along technologically, but there's a lot to be said for habit. Let's face it - for morning shows and stations themselves, it's often about getting into that everyday habitual listening that moves the ratings needle. You can't broadcast only sometimes, and build the kind of consistency necessary to become a regular part of people's lives. And you can't limit home delivery to certain days of the week, and expect consumers to chase your content on the Internet.
This is a bad model, and I now wish the Free Press would have come to its customers with a request for a price increase. It probably tested poorly in their focus groups, but I would definitely pay more if that damn paper were in my mailbox everyday. After going through this checkered experience the last several weeks, I bet I'm not the only one that feels this way.
Meantime in radio, we have to figure out a way to keep that habit going, keep the content coming, and do a better job of marketing our brands in a tough economy. But trust me - whatever we do, let's keep the transmitters on.