This is something I’ve been wondering about lately. It’s no secret that the newspaper industry has been in decline for years now, and that nobody really expects it to recover. I’m wondering how much longer it will be before newspapers start dying out. Since this is the 'Dope, I’m going to specify that this means: how long until there are parts of the US where you cannot find a physical newspaper that talks about local news (papers like USA Today or the Wall Street Journal don’t count). I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet; I’m thinking that we’ll start to see this within the next few years.
They’ve been folded ever since they’ve started printing them. Where have you been?
I agree that it will probably start in the next few years, when surfing the web on the go becomes as easy as reading a newspaper for even old fogeys like me in their late 30s who don’t want to fiddle with tiny mobile devices. Then, the only advantage of local printed papers, ability to advertise to locals out on the town, will go away (and it already is going away for those who do use smartphones.)
In my opinion, having no special knowledge but having worked in the industry for 35 years, newspapers will continue to shrink and contract, but won’t disappear until alternative technologies reach the tipping point. This includes the device (smartphone, tablet, special reader) and the means of delivering content (wi-fi or something similar, I suppose). These technologies are already widespread but not ubiquitous enough nor cheap enough for everyone to use to replace newspapers.
Heck, I still see people picking through discarded newspapers at the BART station recycling bins, just to have something to read on the train.
My bet would be about 5 years ago.
Seriously, though, from my neck of the woods (print advertising) while your big city newspapers are in trouble, the smaller local publications are doing (comparatively) fine. The net is a difficult-to-use resource for finding out neighborhood news and your small community newspapers are now finding themselves in a very new space - becoming more relevant to advertisers because of the declines of the Big City Paper (BCP) and the shift these declines have made to their demographics.
For example, I’m working on a deal with a company that runs a number of local, free newspapers in a large market. Their major big-city competitor has seen its circulation drop from 500k to 240k over the past 20 years with their (BCP’s) readership becoming much older and less-prone to impulse purchases. However, the local free newspaper still prints and delivers 300k newspapers a week to everyone in the area and large advertisers (and we’re talking Fortune 50 companies) are becoming more and more interested in placing their inserts in the free newspaper than they are the BCP.
Why? Because they can print the same amount of inserts and actually get them into the hands of the young, the poor, working parents, and all other categories of people that no longer buy a newspaper, but are still interested in what happens in their neighborhood and/or who want the ads and coupons.
Are we, for purposes of discussion, separating a newspaper as a physical item of paper and ink from the entities that produce them? Because much of the news people read online still comes from newspapers-the-entity, and IMHO that’s the aspect of news"papers" that’s valuable, not the physical printed document. I read Chicago news from the Sun-Times and Tribune nearly every day, but only very rarely from the “dead tree” versions.
I’d like to throw out a question about the ethics of bypassing an online paywall. It this considered something along the level of copying music, or something different. I don’t know if I’d wind up subscribing to my local paper or not, but I found I can bypass their paywall by putting it in the restricted sites list. If I wouldn’t subscribe they’re actually getting more money from me since they still serve up ads.
Small weeklies are doing fine, really. It’s the city papers that are struggling. And if you ask me, they deserve it. The reason the small papers are still going concerns is that they’re all about local news. What do you pick the paper up for? To find out what the hell all those cops were down at the Piggly Wiggly for, damn it. Not for the “latest” (as of press time) on Iraq.
Now, the city papers, including the local one, long ago got rid of local news generating reporters. The Metro section is a sad remnant of itself, and the only real local news is the sports section. If instead they’d dumped the A section they’d still have a good paper that was a real community service instead of the piece of crap bird cage liner they put out these days.
at the local convenience store (pdq) they are running a promotion where you get a free Wisconsin State Journal withevery coffee purchase. That can’t bode well.
Even worse is that for several months before that they were giving away a free bottle of water with everycoffee. I never saw anyone turn down the water, but I regularly see people refuse the paper. the counter guy says they always have stacks left over. I know that I only take it if I need some to drain my bacon on.
Most of the newspaper failures were due to the fact that the newspapers were moving into non-news-related areas like real estate. Ad revenue is down, but we’re in a recession, and the newspaper is still the best way for local businesses to reach an audience. Auto dealers and grocery stores still continue to advertise in papers, and aren’t going to switch away any time soon.
Saying newspapers will disappear is like saying radio disappeared when TV came along. Newspapers will adapt and find a different niche; they’re still by far the best source of local news.
I think that local newspapers are pretty safe. People still need/like to read local news about local issues, local elections, local sports, local obituaries, local police blotters, local TV listings, local weather… I doubt the NYT or Huffington Post or Yahoo News is going to start carrying stories on the politics of the board of commissioners of Bumfuck County, Illinois or everyone who was arrested for DUI in Flyoverville, Kansas. Sure, there will likely be a decrease in the number of physical newspapers sold as more people get their news from the internet, e-readers, and iPads, but that won’t really change how a local paper runs: instead of just sending a file to a printer, they’ll post it on their website, send it to their subscribers Kindles and inboxes, etc. Printers may be in trouble, but local papers aren’t.
The Internet, e-readers and iPads have already changed how a local paper runs.
It’s all well and good to say “well, people will have to get their news from somewhere, and the Internet doesn’t change that.” Trouble is, the Internet disrupted newspapers’ primary revenue generator. Which was, drumroll, ads! Ads are supercheap and/or free online. Not to mention if someone’s online, the best place to look for a used car, the local movie showtimes or the local bar’s specials is no longer your newspaper’s classified or display advertising.
Newspapers-as-papers can’t sell ads. Can’t sell ads = can’t pay staff = can’t fill pages.
So, newspapers-as-entities have to find another way of making money. Online advertising isn’t looking so hot. Paywalls are easily defeated and the per-subscriber actual cost to run the paper would be prohibitively high (subscriber revenue has never been a significant part of most papers’ budgets). Ideas in the “incubator” stage include non-profits and subsidiary products.
A slight resurrection…
The above link is regarding the television industry, but the first and third charts deal specifically with the newspaper industry.
Essentially, for those who don’t want to click, the first chart shows that the $ amount of 2012 newspaper revenue, adjusted for inflation, is approximately the same amount as was spent on newspaper advertising in 1952. Revenue increased until about 2001, then collapsed. It’s rather amazing.
The third chart shows classified ad revenue shrinkage (focusing on help-wanted ads). 92% of that revenue has been lost since 2001. NINETY-TWO PERCENT!
(The second chart is about TV ratings and is irrelevant to this topic.)
I subscribe to the paper. If I’ve already read the paper, and somebody offers me a copy of the paper that I’ve already read, I’m likely to say no. If I’ve drunk a bottle of water this morning, and later somebody offers me another bottle of water, I’m likely to take it.
I do agree with Zsofia’s statement about local news. That’s why people want to read the paper. Yes, I do want to know why the cops were at the Piggly Wiggly*, and what’s that building they’re putting up on that vacant lot three streets over, and who got took up for DUI last week and I want to see my niece’s picture in when she sang in the school concert. Sports and local is what I want, and if I want to read about Obama’s trip to __________, I’ll go online.
*I don’t have a Piggly Wiggly. This is a metaphor.
Rep of the local paper said they print to publish the high school sports stories, that the big city TV and papers do not cover. (I subscribe to it, even though I’m not interested in sports. I also have 3 internet papers; they are harder to read than the paper one due to odd controls, etc.)
I got a telemarketer call for subscription to a local newspaper. He was determined to sell me the subscription even after I told him that I haven’t read a physical newspaper in decades. I explained how it would be a PITA for me to have to go retrieve this thing from the box, then drag it up my driveway only to throw it into a compost pile. He was still determined. Finally, I told him that if he would pay me $5/day, one month in advance, then they could dump their paper at my mail box (and I made it clear that if any paper showed up at my mailbox, I would bill them a disposal fee).
Newspapers make good weed blocker under mulch (cardboard is better, but thick layer of newspaper works). That is about all I use them for.
I agree that the small local papers won’t go away soon. About four years ago, PEW Research found that 25% of the US adult population doesn’t use the Internet in any way at all. In my area, there is a culture around the printed paper (obits, police blotter, school teams, fairs, etc). Even people on the Internet prefer to cut/frame articles and stuff from the printed paper. For example, Joey Schmoe’s pic is in paper for winning touchdown. His parents will buy five copies of the printed paper to cut out/frame the article when they could just print it from the Internet.
Warren Buffet also agrees with those here saying that local papers won’t go away any time soon.
The market is changing. The easy money days are over. The big city papers have had their revenues slashed, but there isn’t much more to go. So how do they remain profitable? Many are turning to consolidation of printing services. The current reality is that a large newspaper publisher can no longer afford to have dedicated presses sitting idle 8, 10, or 16 hours a day. Multiple papers are consolidating under the same printing facility. Printing facilities are coming around to 20th century (yes I said 20th) production process and automating what had remained a predominantly labor intensive industry. Some publishers are getting out of the printing all together and contracting it out. In the future content providers will not necessarily be the printers or even the distributors, but seem to be finding the product and the niche which will survive.