Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Newspapers' perfect storm

While they have been slowly losing ground for some time, newspapers appear to be on the final downhill slide. With companies like the Tribune Co. filing for bankruptcy, it's becoming evident just how outdated and un-useful these papers have become. I'm not saying it because I want them to go away. To the contrary, working in advertising, I'm generally a fan of just about anything where you can sell more ad space. But, as part of a generation who can find little use for them but to wrap my dishes when I move, I understand why it's happening.

Newspapers' functions have largely been taken over by others who can perform the same functions better and/or cheaper. Newspaper classifieds often represent nearly 50% of a newspaper's income. However, craigslist lets you do the same thing…for free…and it's searchable. Free to post. No paper to buy to browse. It allows descriptions as long as you want as opposed to the pay-per-word model of newspapers and allows multiple full-color pictures where newspapers allow none. Oh, and did I mention it's SEARCHABLE? And if you want to go global classifieds, check out Ebay or Amazon.com. Small fee, the entire world of classifieds at your fingertips.

The function of reporting news is done better by others. We can now get news 24/7 on our TVs, radios, computers via the internet and even on our cell phones. Why should I wait until tomorrow at 6 am to find out when it's already a headline on Yahoo.com at 10am today? Oh, and did I forget to mention, I get all this other news FREE? Why should I pay for a paper when I can get more in-depth information, even video, faster and free of charge?

Newspapers also get some fallout
from the green movement, stalled as it may be. When we're trying to save paper and gas and everything else, how can you justify printing hundreds of thousands of hundred-page monstrosities every day, many of which go straight to the garbage can because they were never even bought? They use so much paper, so much of which is never used, and all the information they contain is available elsewhere from non-paper using sources. Why contribute to environmental decline in such a gluttonous way?

And, probably most unfortunately, the remaining advertisers who haven't already fled the dying medium are all in dire straights themselves, slashing their advertising budgets. Who are traditionally the biggest newspaper advertisers? Auto, financial services and retail. Who's in the biggest trouble with the current economic situation? Auto, financial services and retail.

Sounds like the perfect storm to me.


HometownBlogs said...

The fish wrapping folks and bird and hamster owners are all going to be disappointed when the last news paper is printed as John Stewart is fond of pointing out.
I agree with all that you wrote and the problem is in every area of the news print industry. I guess if a newspaper is to survive they should consider themselves a media organization and not just a newsprint organization.
Better yet, maybe newspaper folks should plea with Craig of the list and say please start charging a lot for your services. For the love of print...

Did you see this?


Spork in the Road said...

A while back, I saw a columnist who was writing about the problem before it got this bad and has a few suggestions I think were pretty good about how newspaper companies (not necessarily the physical papers themselves) could survive. For all they've lost, they do have some strengths that others don't that could bode well for them if they figure out how to capitalize on them. I'll see if I can find it. I always hate to see writers out of work.