Digital Marketing, Digital Media, Integrated Marketing and Media, PR 20

The Death of Newspapers: Poisoned or Suicide?

newspapers The Death of Newspapers: Poisoned or Suicide?The evidence of newspapers’ decline as a primary source of information in America is everywhere. My local paper narrowed to a tabloid size yesterday, following USA Today, Arizona Republic, and many, many other papers. 

Essentially all newspapers have laid off significant portions of their staff. Some (like East Valley Tribune in suburban Phoenix) are printing three or four days per week, with Web coverage otherwise. Christian Science Monitor has gone digital-only. 

Revenue for newspapers in Q1 2007 dropped 14% versus Q1 2006. That’s a huge decline in one year for a 100+ year old industry. 

The First Cut is the Deepest

It’s game over for newspapers because nearly everything they offer can be had faster and for free online. This trend has been inexorable for many years. I managed a local Web site (www.azfamily.com – owned by KTVK-3TV in Phoenix) when the Dallas Morning News became the first newspaper to post breaking news online, before running it in print (Lewinsky, 1998). I’ll argue that the first shot in the eventual war of attrition on newspapers was fired that day.

Who’s Fault Is It?

The issue isn’t whether newspapers saw it coming. Or even whether they did anything about it. In fact, I’d argue that since that first online scoop, newspapers have done an amazing job in getting digital and doing it right. They’ve certainly done a much better job than their broadcast brethren (until perhaps very recently).

The core issue is that advertising revenue online is not commensurate with usage, which prevented newspapers from making the digital transformation profitably. Online is extraordinarily under-monetized when you look at $$$ per hour of media consumed and compare it to radio, print, TV, etc. eMarketer says online accounts for 20%+ of media consumption, but just 8%+ of ad dollars.

Additionally, the low (nearly non-existent) barrier to entry for online content has created insane downward pressure on Internet ad rates. There are 500 TV channels or so. There are hundreds of thousands of Web sites that take ads.

Plus, there isn’t much local “spot” market online, because with geo-targeting you’re often better off buying ads on a “national” Web site and targeting them back to the city/state you need, rather than buying ads from a more expensive “local” site.

No Better Ideas Exist?

Other than dramatically reducing the cost of content creation (which is what’s happening now), I’m not sure what else newspapers could have done. Much of their present problems regarding the inability of Web versions to replace ad revenue lost from paper versions is not really their fault.

To me, it’s poisoning, not suicide. For more on the future of newspapers, see this outstanding interview with Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times.

What do you think?

(photo by rumpleteaser)
 

Related
  • http://www.wheatleytimmons.com/ Robert Wheatley

    Jason:

    All the reasons you cite aside, we are witnessing the most significant sea-change in media consumption to come along in a generation. Did a post on the same subject recently. Here’s the link:
    http://www.wheatleytimmons.com/blog/newspapers-lose-news-battle

    Bob

  • http://www.wheatleytimmons.com Robert Wheatley

    Jason:

    All the reasons you cite aside, we are witnessing the most significant sea-change in media consumption to come along in a generation. Did a post on the same subject recently. Here’s the link:
    http://www.wheatleytimmons.com/blog/newspapers-lose-news-battle

    Bob

  • http://www.twitter.com/ScottHepburn Scott Hepburn

    Great questions, Jay.

    I believe the fault DOES lie squarely with newspapers. As a former newspaper man and a devoted fan of journalists, it pains me to blame the family. But when your industry is staring headlong into extinction, you have two choices: Accept your demise or bust your balls to find a cure.

    Newspapers have gotten digital, sure, but they’ve failed miserably in the “How do we make money?” department. Not enough experimentation, not enough wild new ideas, not enough sense of urgency.

    The news business needs to do what so many industries need to do: Bring in forward thinkers from starkly unrelated fields. It’s gonna take someone who doesn’t think like a newspaper man — someone with audacity and inventiveness — to transform the media business model.

    GREAT post, Jay. Thanks for beeting the drum!

    Scott Hepburn’s last blog post..ScottHepburn: @jaybaer Pressticide?

  • http://www.twitter.com/ScottHepburn Scott Hepburn

    Great questions, Jay.

    I believe the fault DOES lie squarely with newspapers. As a former newspaper man and a devoted fan of journalists, it pains me to blame the family. But when your industry is staring headlong into extinction, you have two choices: Accept your demise or bust your balls to find a cure.

    Newspapers have gotten digital, sure, but they’ve failed miserably in the “How do we make money?” department. Not enough experimentation, not enough wild new ideas, not enough sense of urgency.

    The news business needs to do what so many industries need to do: Bring in forward thinkers from starkly unrelated fields. It’s gonna take someone who doesn’t think like a newspaper man — someone with audacity and inventiveness — to transform the media business model.

    GREAT post, Jay. Thanks for beeting the drum!

    Scott Hepburn’s last blog post..ScottHepburn: @jaybaer Pressticide?

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com/ Heather Rast

    I’m glad to read that another communications/marketing person is thinking and writing about consumer information consumption and journalism. I like your angle. I recently wrote two posts on this general topic; one focuses on the “progress” pervasive internet has brought us, and the other is an interview with a small town (weekly) newspaper editor. It would seem that at least for now, it’s possible for small-towners to play the “local boy” card and stave off the inevitable…at least for awhile.

    One:
    http://insightsandingenuity.com/2009/01/04/the-internet-and-news-media-where-has-all-this-progress-gotten-us/

    Two:
    http://insightsandingenuity.com/2009/01/04/the-internet-and-news-media-where-has-all-this-progress-gotten-us/

    Heather Rast’s last blog post..Brand Building Is An Inside Job

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com Heather Rast

    I’m glad to read that another communications/marketing person is thinking and writing about consumer information consumption and journalism. I like your angle. I recently wrote two posts on this general topic; one focuses on the “progress” pervasive internet has brought us, and the other is an interview with a small town (weekly) newspaper editor. It would seem that at least for now, it’s possible for small-towners to play the “local boy” card and stave off the inevitable…at least for awhile.

    One:
    http://insightsandingenuity.com/2009/01/04/the-internet-and-news-media-where-has-all-this-progress-gotten-us/

    Two:
    http://insightsandingenuity.com/2009/01/04/the-internet-and-news-media-where-has-all-this-progress-gotten-us/

    Heather Rast’s last blog post..Brand Building Is An Inside Job

  • letstalkandchat

    If you’re looking for webinar software, then check out Evergreen Business System. Its perfect for marketers and let’s you automate the scheduling of your webinars, build your list, and even follow up with your webinar registrants. If you’re going to buy Evergreen Business System, then you might as well get a free bonus! So check out http://www.mikelmurphy.com/evergreen-business-system-bonus-webinar-software/ and you’ll get a great bonus that tells you how to create a webinar, what is a webinar, and a blueprint for making a successful one. None of the other people offering bonuses are offering this. Hurry in case the guy (some dude that worked on Lord of the RIngs) offering the bonus decides to pull it down.