What I Owe The Scotsman…

Posted on October 24, 2011


I woke up on Saturday morning and checked Twitter. A friend had Tweeted about The Scotsman newspaper which was carrying an interview with Rangers owner Craig Whyte.

I was very interested in reading this so I clicked the link and read the article. 

Once I’d finished I turned my phone off and got up.

Then I thought about what had just happened. A newspaper had given me something very interesting that I really wanted to read. And in return I’d given them…nothing.

And for someone interested in the future of journalism in this country that made me feel very bad. If a newspaper gives me something I really want and gets nothing from me in return, then it’s in trouble.

If I’d known about the interview but not had access to the website I might have bought the newspaper. If I’d arrived at the website and the article had been behind a paywall would I have paid to read it? Probably not since I disagree with the principle of paywalls and would have probably found an online forum where someone had copied and pasted the article. If The Scotsman website required me to register before reading the article I probably would have been prepared to do that.

The version of the article on the Scotsman website contains a small amount of advertising. If I wanted 50% off a meal at the Bruntsfield I would have clicked on it. But I’m in Glasgow and wouldn’t be interested in going there. I know about this ad because I’m not looking at the Scotsman website on a PC. When I read the original article on my mobile phone I can’t recall any advertising at all.

So what does The Scotsman get from my visit? Well, I account for a click on their website. I’m part of their stats and they can use that going forward to sell more advertising. They’ll have some information about me and where I came from that might be of use. My opinion of the newspaper has increased because they gave me something interesting so maybe I’ll be more inclined to buy their paper or look at their website in future. And I’m telling you about it so it’s good for brand awareness. 

But what could they have done to get more out of me on Saturday morning? I’m surprised they didn’t try to get me to delve deeper into their site. The article contained no hot links. There was no “if you’ve enjoyed this..try reading this..” type message. They told me nothing about what else was going on in the paper, gave me no incentive to buy the physical edition, and didn’t tell me anything about what other articles and features they had coming up soon. If the advert had related to a restaurant in Glasgow I might have clicked on it.

The point is I was totally captive, sitting in front of something one of their journalists had worked on, actually felt I owed them something and yet was able to put the phone down and get on with my day without giving them anything.

I’m not suggesting newspapers put up paywalls or force you to register before reading. I’m suggesting they become more creative and aim to make you read a 2nd article when you’re reading the first one. A carefully targetted and well written tease, with a hot link to the content. NOT an automated headlines feed, but a well thought out hook. There must have been at least 2 other main talking points or exclusive features in the paper that day. Why not make it a priority to drive me towards one of them?

Some websites and blogs have taken to including a “tip jar” on their site. As PayPal and quick payment methods become more common this gets easier and if I could have clicked one button and donated 50P to The Scotsman on Saturday morning maybe I would have. And in return they could have emailled me a digital edition of the full newspaper. That would have been good.

I’m sure The Scotsman and all newspapers have a digital strategy and it’ll be far more sophisticated than simply making money. It’ll be about building up relationships, increasing exposure and becoming a “go to” destination for news and sport on the web. My experience with them on Saturday will have helped with that. But I can’t help feeling we’d both have benefitted a lot more with a bit of thought and a little effort on their part.

I’m interested in your views on this. Have you ever read an article on a newspaper’s website and thought about how they could have benefitted from your visit? Tell me what you think in “comments”.

Of course, what I’ve said here doesn’t just apply to newspapers’ websites. Any online publication or blog should be trying to find creative ways to keep people reading. In fact, I should really practice what I preach shouldn’t I?!

(That link should help if you want to find out how Facebook and Twitter can help your business.)

Thanks for reading.