Newspapers are in big trouble financially. The small ones have been going down the tubes in droves over the past several years and the large ones are beginning to experience similar fates.
Publishers like to blame the Internet and claim that people, primarily younger ones but including a growing number of older ones, do not read newspapers, which means that they don’t buy them, either.
Diminished readership means diminished marketing potential. In turn, many businesses reduce or eliminate newspaper advertising altogether.
The Internet is part of the problem, but not as big a part as newspaper publishers like us to believe. A much bigger part of the problem is a lack of innovation on their (publishers) part in bringing readers news that is both easy to find and worth reading.
But, before I explain what I mean, let me drop this bombshell. Newspapers do NOT sell news, features, and commentary. They sell ADVERTISING! And they sell it, on a national average, for anywhere from $175- to $800 per linear inch.
The news, features, sports, and editorial pieces they print are the means to this end. So they base the content on what will motivate readers to buy a newspaper, thus expanding advertising bases.
What readers need to know to make informed decisions is often a secondary consideration. Unfortunately, what sells newspapers almost always trumps readers’ informational needs.
There is a reason why the National Inquirer and the Globe outsell most national and local newspapers by margins of 5 to 1. It also explains why Jerry Springer and Maury Povich will air in syndication forever!
Now, let me get back to the potential for the Internet replacing the printed newspaper. Not only CAN it happen; it IS happening. And, unless publishers get busy innovating, newspapers as we’ve known them are goners.
I’m not one of those “younger” people who don’t buy and read newspapers. I’m one of those “older” people who no LONGER buy and read hardcopy newspapers and magazines.
Until about five-years ago, I loved to get a hot cup of coffee and read my newspapers, all six of them, before leaving my house each morning. My annual subscription bill (including delivery) for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and my local paper, The News Journal, had climbed to $2,220.
The quality of the content had dropped from mostly hard-hitting, factual news articles and a small sprinkling of speculation masquerading as news to generous helpings of speculation masquerading as news and an occasional hard-hitting, factual piece worth reading.
And, in order to find that rare piece worth reading, I had to skim mounds of print pages because the article titles were intended to sell newspapers and not necessarily to describe actual content.
I can obtain all five of those newspapers on the Internet for $510 a year, which is what I pay for fast broadband Internet connectivity, inclusive of 7-email accounts.
In addition, I can have any article I want in under 3-seconds simply by typing in a simple search parameter. I can also copy and paste the stuff into my word processor if I wish to save it.
I can do all of this on a desktop computer or a laptop computer. I can even use my cell phone! But, in light of relatively recent technological innovations, even this has become too tedious.
We don’t lug our desktops around with us. Laptops, no matter how portable, still require a connection to the Internet, either via dialup, broadband, or wireless connection. Locating one of these on the road can be a colossal pain.
Plus, who wants to read a newspaper article using a cell phone LED? Well, OK, maybe there’s an idiot or two, but I’m not one of them.
I bought a handy little gadget from Amazon.com called a Kindle. It’s an electronic reader about the size of a typical paperback book. It weighs about 10-ounces. Click here for a full description.
It uses an electronic paper display that is crystal clear to read under all conditions, especially direct sunlight. No need for a computer or connecting cables. There’s nothing to sync.
It uses wireless connectivity through the same high-speed data network (EVDO) used in advanced cell phones. No need to find hot spots.
Using the connectivity and a credit card, it takes less than 60-seconds to download a book, magazine, or newspaper to read at your leisure. It holds over 200 titles.
I’ve yet to pay more than $9.99 for any book and there are over 220,000 titles available. Magazines cost between $1.50 and $2.50 a month. Newspapers range between $10 and $13 a month.
I can send email, Word documents, and images to it from any computer to which I have access. And, I can do all of this with no monthly wireless bills, service plans, or commitments.
I can highlight any passage—large or small—from any book, magazine, newspaper, Word document, or email; name the reference; and instantly recall it at any time I need it.
The reader costs $349. However, I’m betting that within a year and a half, competition will drop that tag to about $100. Sony and other competitors are right on Kindle’s heels.
Regardless, my annual subscription bill has dropped from $2,220 to $695.40.
The battery lasts anywhere from 4-hours to a week depending on whether I turn the unit off between uses. From dead to full charge takes no more than two hours.
I still read the same newspapers as before—with the exception of my local one. The difference is that I read the Kindle editions. As an added bonus, I no longer have to wade through oceans of garbage in search of something worth reading.
Our automotive industry has wasted decades and spent billions of dollars on lobbyists in an attempt to maintain the status-quo as opposed to real innovation. They’re in big doo-doo as a result.
Innovation… it’s something that the traditionalists in the newspaper business need to get comfortable with unless they wish to be referred to in the past tense.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.