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Newspapers: Stop chasing yesterday’s readers

Why are we always aiming at yesterday’s readers?
I’ve spent the better part of the past year and a half  building and installing a sprawling content management system at one of our larger newspaper chains. Eighteen months. And the entire time I’ve been beset by the nagging, gnawing worry that I’m just bolting a big shiny brand new anchor to the belt of a powerful — but aging — swimmer who even now is floundering in rough waters.
blueanchor.jpgThese enterprise systems, even the newest releases, are inevitably constructed with layer upon layer of legacy code, programming bloated by years of efforts to be every little thing for every high-paying, demanding client, which newspapers certainly were in their prime. These systems are behemoths, slow-moving thunder lizards, terrible to behold, it’s true, but easy to outrun.
And make no mistake, we’re being outrun.
Even though the latest version is clearly better than it’s predecessors, and will improve workflows throughout the newsroom – most especially by making it trivially easy to publish stories, images and videos to the web – it is nonetheless outdated long before it’s launched. It’s just too big. It just does too many (old) things. Its makers just have too much invested in its (old) code base.
Just how outdated?
In 2003, when my paper began researching new Content Management Systems – looking to replace the aging Quark system, there were about 14 cell phone subscriptions for every 100 people in Canada. High speed internet was available to about 64 out of every 100 Canadians.
By the time we began our first installation of the new system (last summer) high speed access was available to more than 90 percent of Canadians, but personal computer sales were stagnating. Cell phone sales have been on a rocket ride to the moon, more than quadrupling over that same period with 64 subscriptions for every 100 Canadians.
New research from the Global Telecoms Insight Study 2010, estimates that as many at 55 per cent of all Canadians will purchase a new cell phone this year – and a large number of these, as many as 30 per cent, will be smart phones – capable of web surfing, email, text messaging, photo and video recording and stream, music, gaming, mapping and travel directions, and a host of location aware services delivered over the phone.
You can see, it’s not really a phone, it’s a computer – one that is just about as powerful as the desktop machines we were all using back when we began looking for a new content management system.
We’re moving at head-snapping speed from a world where we connect to information from our desktop, to one where information finds us, wherever we are. And that information will be consumed on a wide variety of screens and devices.
How does your ‘newspaper’ look on a 3 inch screen? How does it sound?
How about a 7″ or 10″ screen? 
Got an iPad version of your newspaper waiting in the wings?  Maybe you should. Apple will likely launch the iPad — which many observers believe will do for print publishing what iTunes did for music —  between the time I write this and the time you read it.
Things are moving so fast in the netbook and tablet/E-Reader market that figuring out how to optimize your content for the various ways people will want to consume it, well that’s pretty much a full-time job.
And that is a topic for another day.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a link to a complete (well, almost) guide to the exploding e-reader market, and links to some inexpensive tools you can use to get your content off the desktop and into people’s hands – all you need is your RSS feed and an image or two.
Worth Reading:
A chart comparing the major e-readers
Hearst Newspapers jumps into the Tablet/e-reader pool

Cool Tools
AppMaker – See a demo I built in 20 mins at
Sprout Builder
Widget Box
(Cross posted from Shift Lock, my tech column for The Publisher, the newspaper of the Canadian Newspaper Association and The Canadian Community Newspaper Association)

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