Two news stories about the New York Times came out yesterday that show just how much in the tank traditional newspapers are.
The Times’ ad revenue has plunged a whopping 27% in the last three months. They, like many other printed papers, are struggling to survive. Last year they laid off over 1000 workers, with more to come. Whether the falling revenue is due to companies not spending money, or because newspapers are just becoming obsolete as the news models change, I can’t say. It could be some of both. But the truth is, newspapers are suffering. I don’t remember the last time I actually bought a print paper; I read most of my news online or hear it on the radio when driving (if I’m not listening to podcasts). I actually read a lot of news online, news that I’m certainly not paying for. I don’t know what the answer is, but back in the late 80′s, my city (St. Louis) went from a two-newspaper town to a one-newspaper town, and the world did not end. A few less newspapers may just BE the new news model. It might also be helpful to know that large papers are suffering from loss of revenue and a changing business model, while smaller papers are surviving and even thriving in many smaller markets.
The second article was about the NYT’s five Pulitzer Prizes, all announced yesterday. As per usual, larger papers won the most Pulitzers over all. But temper this with the fact that the larger newspapers are the ones struggling the most, and it gives you pause for thought. Is the Pulitzer Prize a dinosaur that has lived its heyday and should know when to retire? Is it possible that just because you’re big, and just because you’re being awarded for “hard hitting global journalism” doesn’t mean that’s what your readers want?
Why are most people going to the web for their news instead of buying a printed paper? For me it’s convenience; because of my job, I’m often near or in front of a computer, and because I’m a geek, there are computers all over my house. A quick scanning of the news is easy, takes up no space, and there’s nothing I have to throw away or recycle later. I can target the news I want easily through searches either through Google or through the news sites themselves, or better yet, by adding them to my regular RSS feed. In addition, I can get news online that I can’t buy in print. Tech news, medical news, European news, and other things I might be interested in are readily available to me online, but are never in any printed paper I pick up. And yes, other than paying for my internet service itself, the news is completely free.
The world has changed. The value of the Internet and access to information increases on a daily basis. Good or bad, this model now exists, and I dare say in twenty years or so, very few people will be reading printed “daily” news or even weekly printed news magazines, unless they find a way to change and grow into something useful again. They have to be able to do something that the Internet cannot do. What that is, I’m not sure. But without change, print publications will die.