Online = CD, print = LP

Harvard Square has a lot of record stores, and I mean that literally — most of them carry CDs and cassettes and posters and such, but it’s mainly bins and bins of vinyl. Some of it’s new, some of it’s collectible, a lot of it is Tom Petty albums from the ’80s for three bucks.

Turntables are even making a comeback of sorts, even though most people don’t own one anymore. The point is, at least in a big metro area, you can still make a living selling LPs.

Why is that? I’d say there are three main reasons:

Dynamics — to lots of people, a well-kept LP on a good turntable just sounds better. My ear isn’t sharp enough to tell the difference, but the idea is that an LP brings in more highs and more lows and a generally warmer sound.

Artwork — the extra space on an album cover provides lots of room for art, and makes the LP a visual experience (I cannot begin to tell you how long I stared at the cover of the first Boston album when it came out. Surprisingly, I did not have many dates back then.)

Keepsakeability — OK, I just made that word up, but you get the idea. A CD is just a tool — take it out of the case and plug it in. An LP is more of a relationship — you spend time taking care of the record, you spend time reading the liner notes, maybe you even put the cover in a frame and hang it on the wall.

It seems to me there might be a lesson here for the newspaper business.

Maybe you treat your online operation as a CD collection — digital, clean, unlimited selection. And maybe you treat your newspaper like an LP — dynamic, beautifully packaged, maybe in a limited edition.

If you follow the newspaper business you know that Tuesday brings the first big move in what might be the endgame for the daily paper — the Detroit papers, it seems, are planning to stop regular daily home delivery. And newspapers across the country are thinking about dropping the print version of the Monday paper — Monday is the thinnest paper with the least news and the fewest ads.

So what if you turned the Monday paper into a magazine?

I’m not talking about going from broadsheet to tabloid — I’m talking about a real magazine, with glossy pages and acres of space for photos and art.

The most underused material at any paper is photography. Photogs shoot hundreds of frames at every assignment, and sometimes the print edition uses one, inside Local, squeezed to credit-card size. Online, some of that work makes it into slideshows. But what if you took all the photos from the previous week and ran 30 or 40 every Monday? What if you had 10 pages of photos from high-school graduations or New Year’s Eve or (in our town) the NASCAR race?

If you live in an NFL town and the Monday edition gave you a killer photo package on Sunday’s game, wouldn’t you want to get ahold of that?

That’s the art. Now the dynamics.

What if you took that Monday edition and ran the best stuff from your blogs? Run the great posts and run the best comments next to them. You could even run a “best of the Web” page from other blogs everywhere. And you could have a standing box listing every one of your blogs, how to find them and how to comment.

A bunch of beautiful photos. Commentary from all around your site (driving people to the site, by the way). A couple of pages devoted to Sunday’s breaking news. And the comics in color.

Seems to me that would be something advertisers would love and readers would jump all over.

You’d struggle a bit on the days when big news breaks on Sunday — maybe two or three times a year. Those days you’d wish you had the flexibility and later deadlines of a broadsheet. But even on those days you could carry a summary in your Monday mag and point readers online. And by the way, if big news broke on Sunday, most of them will have read it online anyway.

These days most newspapers of any size are in the magazine-publishing business — back home in Charlotte, according to this, the Observer puts out at least 10. We know how to put out magazines. I’m not sure if we print them in-house or contract it out, but they get printed somewhere.

No doubt I’m way off base on some crucial element here — it’s too expensive, the deadlines will never work, we have to serve the readers who demand a full news report in print seven days a week. I’m sure somebody can point out all the ways this idea is loony.

But before the newspaper business completely circles the drain, maybe it’s time to try loony.

Here’s the thing about the record-store shoppers in Harvard Square: They’re young. Not all of them, but most. If they’re like the vinyl collectors I know, they’ve got CDs at home, too. They’re not anti-digital. But they know that the record on the turntable and the album cover in your hand is a different experience.

Obviously it’s not as big an audience as the CD audience. But there’s an audience that likes that experience. And apparently they’re willing to pay for it.


2 thoughts on “Online = CD, print = LP

  1. Thoughtful, creative, intelligent – as always.
    When ya coming home?

  2. Tommy, a bunch of your old writing buddies have gone the LP route. They are in niche areas where some organization in that niche thinks enough of the subject to support some newswriting on that subject. Unlike your LP dealers, those organizations tend to give away the content, out of self-interest of course. What’s missing today, and arguably has been missing since the Medici family died out, is the organization whose self-interest is essentially universal, an organization that could support newsgathering at a broader scale, scope and depth. Newspapers weren’t always such organizations committed to truth and fairness and the common interest, as Ring Lardner helped us understand.

    Your task while you have time at Harvard to medicate and network and research is to identify the next firm foundation on which to build reporting in the community interest.

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