Another Nail in Print’s Coffin

December 12th, 2006 by Bob Bly

“The American newspaper industry is on the brink of a collapse [and] nothing can prevent this,” writes media consultant Paul Gillin in BtoB (12/11/06, p. 10).

Among the facts he cites:

* The percentage of people under 25 who read newspapers is half the number of people over 65 who read papers.

* While the U.S. has added 40 million new households in the last 30 years, newspaper circulation has actually declined.

* One study reports that news aggregation Web sites have cost Bay Area newspapers $50 million a year in lost ad revenue.

The problem, says Gillin, is that “newspapers still operate as if they were the gatekeepers of news, but that gate has swung wide open.”

Gillin believes that over the next 20 years or so, most of America’s 1,450 daily newspaper will die — to be replaced by special interest online communities.

What do you think?

Are newspapers dead?

Or will they still be thrown on lawns daily in 2106?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 at 2:17 pm and is filed under General, Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

54 responses about “Another Nail in Print’s Coffin”

  1. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    Merry Christmas!

    Newspapers rely heavily on classified ads as a source of income.

    CraigsList, Monster, etc. are taking a huge revenue chunk away.

    This is why newspapers are partnering with Yahoo/Hotjobs.

    Newspapers are good for a few things:

    1. Sunday ads for Christmas. People like to page through the sales offers.

    2. The front page. I still read it.

    However, the other few 100 pages that come in my San Diego Union Tribune each day meet a fate in the recycle bin (as they ALWAYS have).

    Mike

  2. Bob Bly said:

    Not me, Mike. I always spend 20 minutes a day with the paper at lunch or breakfast. And I probably spend a half hour a day on both Saturday and Sunday–maybe more. I love the paper!

  3. Frank Catalano said:

    Dead? No. Needing to realize they are a niche medium and not a mass medium anymore? Yes.

    Newspapers are no longer best at what once they did best: Deliver the news more quickly, and in more breadth (and sometimes depth), than other media. The Web has trumped them. Radio and TV had them beat years ago in the rapidity department, but papers still had breadth and depth going for them.

    No more.

    Newspapers need to make a transformation like other mass media before them that have been trumped by new media forms. Stage focused on spontaneity and intimacy after movies came along. Movies focused on spectacle after TV came along (and killed the newsreels and serials). Radio became a narrowcasting medium after television came along. There are many more examples.

    Newspapers have one thing going for them right now that the Web does not — portability without power or connection. And excellent reporting staffs, in many cases. They should leverage both, both in print and online. I suspect they may become more like the weekly newsmagazines that provide both what’s happening now and context, IF they survive.

    I still read paper because it’s easier on the eyes and easier to carry along when I travel every week. There may be a hint of where papers should go, there.

  4. mike brown said:

    Newspapers are not dead – yet… I’m 37 years old and I spend the first hour of my day consuming media (including your blog) through my RSS feeds… I have not purchased a newspaper in years…

    For now, there is a niche group (mostly older) who will continue purchasing newspapers, but the future is about customization – and allowing the consumer to choose what they want read…

  5. Paul Gillin said:

    Hi, Bob:

    Thanks for the mention and thanks to your commenters for the additional thoughts. I’d just like to point to an expanded essay on the BtoB site where I outline in considerably more detail why I think so many newspapers will disappear. It’s not a question of whether an audience exists. Rather, the audience won’t be big enough to support the vast fixed costs of the medium. I do believe several national “super-papers” will survive and thrive, but most of the regional dailies will fail.

  6. Tracey said:

    It’s tough to say. I think Boomers and Gen-Xers still appreciate the feel of paper in their hands while enjoying a newspaper or magazine. I myself love reading the newspaper (especially on Sundays), but have to admit that while I’m reading I’m wondering if there’s any updated info about the articles that interest me online.

    I’ve observed that the tail end of Gen-X into Gen-Y and beyond is more interested in electronic info and word of mouth.

    Where it will all go is anyone’s guess.

  7. SpongeBob Fan said:

    I like the Internet. Also love newspapers … probably for the same reason I still like bookstores. I want to have at least the possibility of being totally captured by something I never even considered before, which is not really possible with Internet you-news.

  8. Bob Bly said:

    In an article in DM News (12/11/06, p. 1), L. Gordon Crovitz, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, says the role of newspapers is shifting from news reporting to news analysis, noting, “Print focuses more on forward-looking news, online on what’s happening now.”

  9. Neil Sagebiel said:

    I think Paul is right — newspapers will have an audience but it won’t be large enough to support their costs. It’s an outdated business model that requires heavy ad revenue.

    I’ve had a major metro newspaper as a client for the last 10 years so I’ve had a front row seat. Baby boomers and older are loyal newspaper readers (and often subscribers). But the younger generations — say, 40 and under — forget it.

    Newspapers have to reinvent themselves but it has been a painfully slow process.

  10. Dianna Huff said:

    I read the Boston Globe every morning at breakfast and the Wall Street Journal at lunch. I love newspapers. I feel my day isn’t off to a good start if I can’t read the newspaper while drinking my coffee. However, I have noticed that the Globe’s job classified section is now down to five pages on Sunday. Real estate will be next.

  11. Zac Vega said:

    Here’s my prediction.

    Dailies will always exist, especially all these free dailies that are popping up all over the place. (the ad dollars will support the free dalies)

    Saturday, and Sundays editions will still be available, that’s the only time people have to read that much newspaper.

  12. STEVE OKEEFE said:

    I read the Wall Street Journal every day. As far as I can tell, none of my employees read any newspapers (the oldest of them is approaching 40). Virtually none of my students read newspapers. It would be fair to say they “look at” magazines, they don’t “read” them. Phone books? Forgettaboutit! Have you seen the new “Call To” feature on Google Maps? It’s going to make phone books historical artifacts. And books themselves are struggling. Where are we going to turn for analysis that takes more than 5 minutes to consume?

  13. Frank Catalano said:

    I live in the Seattle area. We’ve now been without power since Thursday night.

    Suddenly, phone books and newspapers are a wonderful fall-back technology when there’s no power (or cable modem or DSL) to look up phone numbers or find out how to reach someone or what’s going on (except, of course, for the battery-powered radio).

    This isn’t a isolated tale of woe: In many developing countries, there is no reliable power. Paper media will be around for quite a while, until electronic media becomes self-powering.

  14. michelle said:

    One of our oldest newspapers, The Birmingham Post-Herald, recently closed its doors. In a town as small as ours, and with the internet available, there’s no longer a need for two daily newspapers. But I think all cities will continue to have at least one daily, no matter how popular the internet is or may become.

  15. Gloria said:

    I work in manufacturing, as labor to be exact. In the break room we have the Birmingham News supplied daily by the company. It is read. Not only read, we sometimes argue over who gets what section first!

    Who reads the paper? Guys in their twenties. Old ladies of fifty-something and one of seventy-something. The owner of the company and the company’s secretary.

    Newspapers dead? Not hardly.

    What’s popular? Comics, horoscopes, grocery store ads, the editorial page, local news section, and the front page. And I never fail to read the money and tech sections.

    Now who am I? Fifty-something. Female (can’t you tell by the name?). College degree. Literate. Computer literate. I’m fully aware that the national headlines presented on Yahoo last night will be the front page in tomorrow’s Birmingham News. Still, the newspaper gets read.

  16. gsm said:

    I don’t think newspaper will die out (completely). Newspapers here are still being read alot but only when it’s easy to get the paper. If say people would have to go to the store everyday to buy it they would much rather look on the internet.

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  18. Trillian said:

    Looking at the entries and surveying my contemporaries, there will definitely be a split between those who read the newspaper and those who do not. The forty-something crowd is barely reading the newspaper. The thirty-something crowd is not reading the newspaper. Just the other day I opened the telephone book to find a service and my teenaged daughter started laughing at me saying, “Daddy what are you doing looking in the telephone book?” From a marketing perspective, if you are trying to reach the mid-fifty and older demographic, the newspaper will work. I am unsure how long that will continue.

  19. Imobiliare said:

    I thinks newspappers will go digital on this point and that’s it.

  20. Lois said:

    I was a newspaper reporter and editor until 14 years ago. We were lamenting the certain demise of print news within 20 years back then, despite the double-digit profits the publishers were reporting in a recession.

    I lived and worked in Chicago – a great newspaper town, with six dailies at least and its very own wire service, when I was growing up – and later moved to east central Illinois, where I covered City Hall for a medium-sized daily. What the internet news services, as they exist now, can’t replace, is the local coverage provided by the smaller dailies and weeklies. These papers serve a real purpose in their communities. The death of those newspapers would be analogous to papers now only serving up wire stories. Then, yes, papers would be dead.

    As for format, I’ll always choose hard copy over electronic when I’m going to spend time reading. While san serif type is easier to read on a computer screen, the brain picks up the “flags” on serif so that it’s actually much easier and less tiring to read. Combine that with the long-term effect of staring at pixels, and print material wins hands-down. So when I want to read an in-depth news analysis of why a relatively inexperienced newcomer from my state could become president, I’ll read it on the printed page of the Trib or NYT, and not on their websites. The latest on Britney, however, is short enough to be scanned on the ‘net.

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