This post was first published at charman-anderson.com and is republished with permission. Kevin tweets as @KevGlobal.

Itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s time, actually past time, for a radical rethink of newspapers as a product. Mobile apps and mobile content are finally going mainstream with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, and consumers are finding that these do the job better than print. The 2011 State of the News Media study in the US found:

ǽƒ_ª_Nearly half of all Americans (47 percent) now get some form of local news on a mobile device. What they turn to most there is news that serves immediate needs ǽƒ_ªƒ__ weather, information about restaurants and other local businesses, and traffic. And the move to mobile is only likely to grow. By January 2011, 7 percent of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet. That was nearly double the number just four months earlier.

Which is why itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s really time to rethink and refocus the print product. In a world where immediate access to news and information is in the pocket of an increasing number of people, what role does a newspaper play? Fortunately, there is a process to think about this.

The Innovatorǽƒ_ªƒ_½s Dilemma

Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½m a big fan of Steve Yelvington, and Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½ve had the honour to meet him and even do some training and speaking with him. Steve often talks about Clayton Christensen of the Innovatorǽƒ_ªƒ_½s Dilemma fame because of the role Christensenǽƒ_ªƒ_½s thinking had in the NewspaperNext project to rethink newspapers. The project found:

  • ǽƒ_ªƒ__ Great incumbent companies consistently collapse in the face of disruptive technology.
  • ǽƒ_ªƒ__ Cramming old products into new forms is the wrong approach so new companies with new approaches win.
  • ǽƒ_ªƒ__ Products succeed by helping customers get done the jobs they already have been trying to do.
  • ǽƒ_ªƒ__ We can learn to spot opportunities for growth, not just wring our hands over losses.

I was thinking about this when I read a couple of comments about newspapers this past week. First, SEO consultant Malcolm Coles showed the money he used to give The Guardian (my employer up until a year ago) and what he gives The Guardian now. Putting aside the financial analysis for a minute, this struck me (emphasis mine):

ǽƒ_ª_Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½ve gone from paying Ç_¶œ230 a year for weekday news to Ç_¶œ4. The collapse in what I pay is because I read most of the news for the next dayǽƒ_ªƒ_½s newspaper on the Guardian website on my iPad the evening before. And I read anything new on my iPhone on the way to and from work. The newspaper has nothing in that I need.ǽƒ_ª¶

Second, David Carr was writing in the New York Times about executive bonuses at US newspaper giant Gannett while the company asked employees to take a furlough. That aside, he said this (again, emphasis mine):

ǽƒ_ª_Gannettǽƒ_ªƒ_½s flagship, USA Today, is a once-robust national newspaper but has lost 20 percent of its circulation in the last three years. About a week ago, I was at the Marriott in Detroit, and as I stepped over the newspaper at my door as I usually do, I then wondered why. It occurred to me that everything in that artifact that would be useful for me ǽƒ_ªƒ_ scores from the teams I follow, a brief on big news and a splash of entertainment coverage ǽƒ_ªƒ_ I had already learned on my smartphone and tablet before leaving the room. Gannett is aware of the challenge and has moved aggressively into mobile, with six million downloads of its apps, but those marginal revenues will not fill the hole created by challenges to its core business.ǽƒ_ª¶

For edge cases like me, this has been the case for years, but when media reporters for a major newspaper like the New York Times say that the jobs that newspapers used to do for them they do with something else, the industry has to take notice.

Steve Yelvington has been thinking about this question for years, but the newspaper industry really needs to ask: What jobs does a newspaper do that no other medium does for its readers? Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½m not asking about how you value newspapers, but what do you actually use a newspaper for that no other bit of media can do for you? Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½m not even asking about your emotional relationship to print. Actually, I think for a lot of people in the newspaper business, their emotional and professional connection to print, is actually getting in the way of answering these questions.

Itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s time to radically rethink the newspaper as a product. Where would you start?

To start things off, Iǽƒ_ªƒ_½d say cut the breaking (or rather broken because itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s yesterday news) news. Yes, there will be a major story of the day, but we really need to rethink how itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s presented on the front page. How does the front page feel fresh instead of repeating last nightǽƒ_ªƒ_½s news? Itǽƒ_ªƒ_½s almost becoming laughable how out of date most front pages feel. If youǽƒ_ªƒ_½ve got a big scoop by all means splash it, but donǽƒ_ªƒ_½t just follow yesterdayǽƒ_ªƒ_½s news agenda. Next?