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Print’s dead — but so is digital

15 February 2016

From USA Today:

The Financial Times, in a considered piece the other day, has, if there was any doubt, pronounced the newspaper business deader than a doornail. But its more advanced point was pronouncing the digital news business at the point of death, too.

In the past six years the print newspaper business in the U.S. has shrunk by more than half, in the U.K., according to the FT, by one-third, precipitating the announcement last week of the closing after 30 years of the print edition of Fleet Street upstart the Independent. But the effort to reinvent the business online — in the mantra of publishing, “digital is the future” — presents, if possible, an even bleaker picture. Despite the online world’s crowing about advertising growth, and the belief of many publishers that online ad revenue would surely replace offline, the per-view price of a digital ad continues to drop, and ever-more ad dollars are concentrated with Google and Facebook. Now, to boot, there are ad blockers: nobody ever has to see a digital ad.

. . . .

The passing enthusiasm for paywalls as an alternative revenue stream has, other than for a few must-have titles, produced scant revenue as well as falling readership and a collapsing brand awareness for many newspapers.

. . . .

In other words, while neither consumers nor advertisers will pay enough for news to cover its costs in print form, they won’t cover the costs in digital either. Immediacy and efficiency and searchability and connectedness have not proved to be any more valuable than the slow delivery of yesterday’s news.

. . . .

At present, the FT concludes, there is no viable economic model for a written news product.

Link to the rest at USA Today and thanks to Shelly for the tip.

Technology disruption tends to squeeze costs out of products and services that experts regarded as low-cost already.

While PG grew up loving to read printed newspapers and still receives a couple of physical papers each morning, he’s an outlier and, on many days, doesn’t read them. Sometime soon, he’s likely to look at a renewal notice and decide to spend his money elsewhere. PG’s internet provider is set up on autopay so he’s never so much as a day late with his payment.

But, of course, newspapers aren’t special snowflakes like printed books.

Disruptive Innovation

14 Comments to “Print’s dead — but so is digital”

  1. The reluctance of people to pay for digital news is a legitimate concern although because of various political issues I have scant sympathy with Independent which I have long refused to pay for. I pay for only one digital newspaper, a UK one, one with a political stance with which I agree. Other than that I depend upon free content. I suspect (but couldn’t prove) that I’m an outlier in paying for even one.

  2. One problem I have with online editions of newspapers, and paywalls in particular, is they are usually a simple repackaging of the print edition, which means the bulk of the content is from wire services and therefore the same as in any other paper.

    Many online newspapers limit you to a certain number of free articles per month. That’s not an issue when so much of the content is duplicated. Just Google headlines and read different stories on different sites.

    You want my money? Produce something unique.

    • Heh, that and ads …

      Why don’t I watch TV? Loud ads, well that and the only thing the advertisers will spend money on is non-real reality shows …

      Why do I run an ad blocker when online? Loud, bold, flashy, pop-over, pop-under, block what you’re trying to look at until you click on me — ads … Never mind that most malware hits your system through third-party ads because one or more of them have been hacked.

      Sorry guys, your business model isn’t working. Adapt or die.

      • I’m with you, Allen. I stopped subscribing to newspapers because they turned into ads with an occasional story stuck in here and there. I refuse to subscribe to online editions because they are so junked up with ads and popups that they are dangerous. It’s annoying on my computer, but it’s downright nasty with my phone or tablet. Can’t even negotiate a story without fear of touching something.

        My local newspaper now junks up my mailbox with ad inserts and litters my driveway with more of the same. Unasked for, unwanted (goes straight in the garbage before ever reaching the house) and a total waste of paper. I guess it’s the only way they can give advertisers a “circulation” number. Shees.

      • All of this. I finally had enough and installed AdBlock so I could avoid dealing with those stupid ads that take over your computer. The site “Inc” likes to demand you login if you’re using an adblocker. They don’t seem to know about the “open incognito window” option in Chrome, and I hope they never find out 🙂 There are people there I follow, but they have blogs and I’ll just read their blogs rather than put up with those ads.

        It would be nice if the advertising departments of these sites could be staffed with people who use the internet. Or at least grok the principle of not being jerks to their readers.

  3. People can whine all they want, but it will change nothing. Macroeconomics will have its way. Print newspapers are going down the tubes. Unless they can devise new, innovative revenue streams, that sinking won’t stop. More of the same (and the definition of insanity) ain’t gonna cut it.

    Here in LA, the LA Times is now $2 for the weekday edition, $2.50 for Sunday, and it’s thin. Really thin — a decreasing page count of what used to be a thick, comprehensive, something-for-everyone publication. Diminished content, diminished circulation, and therefore diminished advertising. Add a desperate, hard-to-navigate online presence and the future is easy to predict.

    I can’t remember the last time I bought a copy of the LA Times.

  4. I think one problem is that we’re starting to see just how much print benefited from a lack of measurement of effectiveness. I suspect that most of those $100,000 ads sold over the years produced negative ROI, but no one could show that.

    Now it’s easier to see what you’re getting from an ad. And any newspaper or magazine that wants to survive is going to have to realize the party is over, and they’re going to have to produce a lot more content at a much more reasonable cost. Or they can ride expense accounts, New York offices, and low productivity right to the graveyard

    • I think you’re right. I also think the ad departments still haven’t done the research. At my newspaper, I was talking with one of the photo editors about a batch of sales papers the paperboy (man) leaves on my driveway every weekend. I was mystified, because I never asked for that service.

      “I don’t get those,” the photo editor told me. “Those are only sent to people they think have money. I live in the city, so they think it means I’m poor. You don’t live in the city so they think it means you have money.”

      I laughed. At the time, she had her own yacht, which she used to race in regattas. A yacht is nowhere near my budget. I do not understand the basis of their assumptions. Good grief.

  5. For decades, I subbed to 7/week delivery. A couple years ago, I switched to Sunday delivery + Digital. I wanted to support local investigative reporting. But that $100 a year has been mostly wasted. I don’t even much read the Sunday paper (gets tossed still wrapped) and rarely visit their website (they do not make it user friendly).

    If their digital version was easy to use and delightful, I would not now be considering ending my sub altogether. Come renewal in June, it may be the first time since the mid-80s that I do not support the local paper.

  6. A lot of the decline in traditional media isn’t just the medium, it’s the quality of the material. Local newspapers and the big national ones simply aren’t as good as independent news/commentary websites now.

    You can also compare a paper from 100 years ago to one from today, and the older papers simply contained more information in their articles, rather than the clipped 5-1000 word pieces most journalists do now.

  7. Sometime soon, he’s likely to look at a renewal notice and decide to spend his money elsewhere.

    Go for it. My experience is they will keep throwing the paper up on the porch for free for the next year to keep circulation figures up.

  8. I haven’t bought a newspaper in years. If I want to read one I just pop into the library. And there’s no need to pony up to get behind a paywall, I get the major stories on my browser in the morning for free. You have to love the modern world – I get to keep more money in my pocket for my real needs – like Scotch.

  9. Formal newspaper journalism in its current state deserves to die. It traded the trust of readers for politics and mega-ad clients. It ignored the analytics of disruptive advertising. It ignored the uselessness of nonresponsive digital “print” editions. It jumped into bed with politics. Newspapers can save themselves by establishing thousands of online “commoner” correspondents, by bird-dogging bad government and by writing things that help millions of average people. For this, people will pay.

  10. If we had digital transmission of data, would there be any reason to invent a physical print newspaper? If not, their time has passed.

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