Another day, another think piece on the death (or, as ArkStFan optimisticly posits, evolution) of newspapers. This time, it’s James Suroweicki of the New Yorker who’s ruminating on the quickly deteroriating scene. And in today’s essay, he points out something we noted a few posts ago: the irony that while newspapers are failing at a time when newspaper content — i.e., news — is now in more demand than ever:
The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more.
So what’s the difference? Well, that gets us into Walter Hussman Territory, wherein the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher (who so brilliantly gave away free classifies to whip the old Arkansas Gazette) thinks newspapers should never have given away news for free on the Web in the first place. The problem, it seems, is us!
The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.
That of course assumes that newspaper publishers do the very thing they shouldn’t: let advertisers continue to pay peanuts for online ads when compared with print displays. It’s that disparity that means a newspaper on the Web can’t support the type of newsgathering operation that print once could. That’s why you see the layoffs and buyouts. That’s why you see newspapers cutting off their noses to spite their faces, quickly hastening their demise.
News demands to be supported by advertising — a subscription model has worked in only a handful of cases. At some point, as this painful evolution continues, there will have to be a reckoning between online news providers and advertisers. That will require newspaper publishers and their advertising staffs to become more educated about the value of their online services and more savvy about marketing them.
Otherwise, like Suroweicki says, newspapers will be giving everything away until there’s nothing left to give.
New York Times freezes wages – Forbes
Friedman: Newsweek a magazine in decline – MarketWatch
Filed under: business, Internet, Media, Newspapers | Tagged: advertising, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Gazette, James Suroweicki, magazines, Media, New Yorker, Newspapers, Newsweek, print, Walter Hussman |