Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on the Death of Print

I read a lot about the publishing industry, the media and the so-called death of print, that's one of the reasons I really think Seattle can no longer support two daily newspapers in print. Too bad it can't be the Seattle Times that's failing, rather than The Post-Intelligencer, but some day soon, one of them will have to go.

For some historical perspective, here's a pretty funny news story from 1981 Icki posted a link to. It gives the newspaper's perspective of the coming online revolution very early on. Their outdated computers, modems, use of old school technology and some of their ideas are all pretty funny. What's most relevant in the discussion, though, is to realize newspapers have been working towards having people read their content online for over twenty eight years, as well as foreseeing an end to print editions:

In the debate on the death of print, it's important to separate books from serials (newspapers, journals and magazines). While electronic book reading is definitely on the rise thanks to the Kindle and the Sony Reader, print book reading has actually risen as well in the American adult population for the first time since declining steadily from 1982. Yay books!

But while book reading has gone up, newspaper and magazine reading continues to plummet, generally at a rate of around 3% per year. Well, I should re-state this, because the rates aren't really plummeting, the format is changing, and that's something people bemoaning the death of print often fail to realize. Print readership is dropping as online news and entertainment is rising, readership overall isn't changing. And there are bigger problems facing a newspaper today, ss print readership dwindles, they also face rising printing rates and less advertising revenue. In 2007 alone, the Newspaper Association of America reported a 9.4% drop in ad revenues to $42 billion, compared to the previous year. This was the biggest drop in revenue since 1950... and in the same period internet ad revenues grew 18.8%. The 2008 figures aren't out yet, but I would expect with an expected 3% or more drop in readership and a poor economy, we might see an even bigger drop in ad revenue. Two years of record ad revenue drops are really hurting the newspaper industry. It's becoming more and more a question of when they will fail, rather than if they will fail. To slow the death of daily print newspapers, they've done what they have to to survive. This includes consolidating, downsizing staff, and shrinking their number of pages and print run sizes. But eventually, even this won't work, especially in towns with two daily newspapers competing for an ever shrinking number of readers and advertisers.

Comscore, a company that monitors the digital world, has done studies on print vs. online readers of news. A March 2008 study reported "Heavy print newspaper readers show a strong skew towards older age segments, while the non-newspaper reader segments skew younger. Those age 65 and older are nearly 3 times more likely than average to read the print edition of newspapers 6 times per week, while those age 18-24 are 38 percent more likely than average to not read a print newspaper at all during a typical week."

I hate to harp on Nick Licata more after yesterday's rant based on some misleading information from KOMO news, but he was quoted saying "When we eliminate newspapers, we're essentially dumbing down democracy... Democracy is based on knowledge. If you limit the access to knowledge, you're going to get bad decisions. Or you're going to have decisions based on spur-of-the moment emotions, based on fears, based on sort of panic situations." Comscore's data shows exactly the opposite to be true, the death of print newspapers does not dumb down the population at all. It shows not only do print newspaper readers also read online news, but non-newspaper readers are actually heavier news consumers, they just consume news in a digital format. The death of print doesn't mean we have less access to knowledge, in fact, I'd argue in the digital era, we actually have more access to knowledge, more up-to-date data and news, and quicker 24/7 access to it then any generation before us.

More from the Comscore report:
“Non-newspaper readers are a particularly important segment to reach because they are heavier than average news consumers – they just prefer to consume it in a digital format ... that they are receptive to print, TV, and Internet news brands indicates a broad opportunity online, but the brands that will ultimately win over these key news consumers are the ones that successfully integrate cutting edge digital content with high quality journalism.”

Yes, it's a different world. With the main audience for the daily paper trending 65 and older, and getting older, the days of newspapers are surely numbered. For older folks not realizing how much data we have at our fingertips, how easy it is to access it, and how much the world has changed for younger generations, I highly suggest checking out many of the in-depth articles, news stories and books that have been written about it... most of which, you can find on the Web.


Kevjones30 said...

Being a working journalist, I've discussed this topic frequently with my colleagues. Newspapers would probably be in a better situation if they had actually jumped onto the bandwagon they covered for so many years, but all through the '90s, actually printing newspapers was like printing money and they really didn't believe in spending time on the internet. I've talked with guys from the San Francisco Chronicle that said the drop in revenues was almost overnight -- one minute they're rolling in money, the next minute they're losing $10 million a year. The most ridiculous aspect of the Chronicle's situation is the fact that because SF Gate started as a separate entity, it's the only profitable part of that enterprise.

I think a lot of the smarter publishers are looking forward to the day they can drop printing their publications. My old publisher told me that circulation accounted for 70 percent of the operating costs. I think that was the big reason that they went Web-only this year.

The one difficult aspect though is not only selling online ads, but convincing ad reps that the product is worth standing behind. I remember talking to ad reps at that same paper and they always told me that "online ads just don't sell. Business owners want to be able to hold the ads in their hands." There are so many benefits to online advertising, yet I wouldn't be surprised that opinion was common amongst ad reps all over the nation.

PS -- thanks Dan for posting a link to my blog, but you need to make one correction: Kevin JONES'S blog. Thanks.

Dan 10Things said...

Thanks for the insight Kevin. Yeah, if some ad reps aren't convinced that selling online ads is something they can get behind, I think they will soon be out of a job. Oh, and the link is fixed!