Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Newspapers are Sucking Air

You don't have to look very far to see that newspapers in the United States are failing. Today is the last day that the Seattle Post Intelligencer will publish a hard copy, paper edition. Other papers are failing or restructuring their corporate model to stay in business. The day may well come when giants such as the N.Y. Times (already dodging bankruptcy) and the Washington Post may go under. Some of my friends, primarily on the Right wing, feel that this may actually be a good thing. The main stream media is too liberal, they cry! People recognize the bias and they are mad as hell and they won't take it anymore!

An exciting line of thought, but sadly it is pure horsehockey. Newspapers are indeed swirling near the bottom of the toilet, but it's hardly anything to do with partisan political opinions or journalistic slant. The answer, as usual, will be found by following the money. Newspapers put all of their content on line and they never figured out a way to monetize that channel. Advertisers don't want to pay big bucks for online banner ads because they don't generate any sales for the advertiser. It's really as simple as that.

If you're old enough to remember some of those classic black and white movies, you've seen the newsboy out on the street shouting, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" Do you know what "extra" means in that context? Newspapers, once upon a time, put out one edition per day in the morning or the evening. If there was a really BIG story breaking, they would actually put out an extra edition and send kids out on the street to sell it. This, of course, doubled their overhead costs for the day and cut into profits massively.

In the modern era, nobody else has to do that. The 24 hour television news beast can update their broadcast schedule on a moment's notice. Web sites change as fast as you can refresh them. The newspaper is running out of ways to make money at the same time that its news delivery capability is looking like three toed sloth in a world of velociraptors. It simply isn't profitable to compete with the beast.

So what can papers do? They can go back to a local model that subscribers will actually pay for and deliver things that you still can't get on the web or from the big national outlets. You deliver coupons for shoppers. You deliver the local sports news for high school teams that parents still want to save and show off. You deliver obituaries! Families will still want them for their scrap books and memories of family members since departed. This is the market you hit and your readers will pay the fifty cents to buy it and advertisers will spend their money to support it.

Print media isn't dead, but it MUST evolve for a new, more compact generation. Otherwise, it goes the way of the dinosaur. Adapt or die. It's the same for every other business life form on the planet.

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