UPDATED: Walter Hussman: Fight the Future!

Updated: Brantley gets a response from Hussman. Their exchange:

Q: Don”t you think, inevitably, maybe not in my lifetime or the next, but inevitably, electronic distribution has to prevail? When reading devices become cheap, convenient and ubiquitous (not to mention instantly updatable), it seems to me that the lure of giving up the cost of paper, ink, printing and distribution will make too much economic sense to retain the old model.

Care to future gaze?

A: I think on line access to information will become more widespread as it becomes easier to use and more interactive. But I think there will always be a market for printed newspapers. The audience may become smaller, but if so  I think it will be well educated and those concerned and committed to their communities. If so, this will be an attractive audience for advertisers. But for now, newspapers are still the most cost effective mass medium for advertisers in most local markets.

Original item:

Max Brantley posts what looks to be an item* from the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Walter Hussman, who is defiant in the face of newspaper failures throughout the country and industry’s slow realization that its business model, built around printed ads and delivery, is simply unworkable in the digital world.

The e-mail is from Hussman to managers at all his papers, including Paul Smith at the DG. It notes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s move ditching its money-losing print edition and attempting to go online-only.

The e-mail reads:

Paul, worth reading, in that it is the first print to web only conversion of a daily newspaper.

Our goal is to try and make sure this never happens to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and our other newspapers.

Thanks, Walter

Brantley, who admits to not owning a cell phone, seems taken aback by Hussman’s never-say-die spirit. And Times blog commenters are already having fun with it. Says one:

Anybody who doesn’t believe the day is in sight when virtually all media is transmitted electronically probably also believes that gasoline is the end game for rapid transportation.
The world is changing. Walter’s gonna get his ass passed by if he doesn’t get on board.
“never” is such a long time.

I think there’s many ways to take this e-mail, as it is written. (Brantley tells me he’s asked Hussman to elaborate.) It doesn’t mean that Hussman doesn’t have an online strategy — perhaps one that maintains some form of a print edition, which might in fact be doable in the foreseeable future in Arkansas, a state where broadband penetration isn’t so hot.

But you can’t argue this: Hussman’s losing his print-loving base every time he publishes an obit. And the kids coming up, they don’t read the print version. They go online. And in that light, Hussman’s e-mail is dispiriting.

Am I reading this wrong? Can the DG exist with the print product forever? Let me know in comments.

(* I’ve corrected my intial missunderstanding of how Brantly received the Hussman e-mail. Brantley received the copy from someone — apparently in the DG’s newsroom. Apologies.)

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4 Responses

  1. Perhaps there’s a more creative approach to the print product than what’s traditionally been put out there… consider what Time, Inc. is doing with it’s MINE magazine venture (http://tinyurl.com/cjvghr). That’s not to say their approach is a good fit for ADG, but using people’s online habits as a gauge to help create a user-friendly print product could be a good approach.

  2. I think for the most part print is being replaced by online news sources. Here in British Columbia you can get great national, international and provincial news online, but the real local news (especially in small towns) is still covered almost exclusively by newspapers.

    It’d be good to see blogs and websites pick provide accurate, reliable and professional news coverage in smaller towns and rural areas.

    As for faxes… So many people still use them! I work in education and we use faxes all the time. I always ask why people still use them and it seems that many people find it more reliable than email because of all the spam guards which prevent legitimate emails from coming through

  3. […] his blog, Lance Turner notes, “But you can’t argue this: Hussman’s losing his print-loving base every time he […]

  4. […] Pool: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman says “Never surrender” on print news, giving Lance Turner a set-up for zinger of the week: “Hussman’s losing his print-loving […]

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