"Save the News, Not the Newspaper"

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"Save the News, Not the Newspaper"

Postby Kevin » Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:56 pm

Save the News, Not the Newspaper
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090302/alterman
By Eric Alterman
The Nation, March 2, 2009

The American newspaper--born in Boston sometime between 1690 and 1721, depending on the prerequisites one prefers--is dying a remarkably sudden death. Overall circulation, adjusted for population growth, is about half of what it was in 1946 and is declining rapidly. And while the number of Internet readers is rising, they are no replacement for print readers from the standpoint of advertisers, who must pay the freight. To ad buyers the worth of an Internet reader is barely 10 percent of that of a print customer. Because of these and other no less destructive trends, publicly owned newspapers lost roughly 15 percent of their already falling advertising revenue last year, and with it, according to the invaluable analyses of journalism and technology maven Alan Mutter, a whopping 83 percent of their already decimated stock value. From an economic perspective, this is what it looks like to fall off a cliff. ...


This unusually clear and fully-scoped discussion of the familiar issue of precipitous decline in US daily newspapers continues...

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090302/alterman

Very much worth reading for anyone concerned about or interested in the future (even the near-future) of our news-gathering and sharing institutions.

It includes a number of really important potential solution categories that are usually left out.

It also accepts as a given one key assumption that I suspect is not sound, even though it is almost universally included in such discussions...
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Postby Kevin » Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:42 pm

The chunk of Eric Alterman's setup in that posting that I don't accept as a static assumption - though certainly it does accurately reflect the current reality - is this:

...while the number of Internet readers is rising, they are no replacement for print readers from the standpoint of advertisers, who must pay the freight. To ad buyers the worth of an Internet reader is barely 10 percent of that of a print customer. ...


Here's another broadly similar discussion of these issues in the publisher's blog at FOLIO, which references a couple of others, too:
"Beware Those Who Say New Media Model Has Fully Emerged"
http://www.foliomag.com/2009/beware-tho ... ly-emerged

Here's why I think, contrary to those thoughtfully pessimistic perspectives, there's going to be a very large increase in the amount of marketing dollars flowing online, instead of into print:

New media are in currently caught in the classic "crossing the chasm" situation of technology product introductions. However, there are a couple of key differences from the classic form of that model. First, the "technology product" caught in the chasm is the whole approach to interacting with information media online, instead of on paper - not just a single product line. Second, the split between early adopters and conservatives has played out to the point where readers or end-users of media are rapidly making the move to new media - taking the relative role of early adopters - while the advertising community are dragging their feet, in the relative role of the conservatives.

In other words, the readers are moving to new media much faster than the advertisers. The bulk phenomenon of fear of change on the part of the advertising community (amply supported by most print publishers, who remain caught in the middle like deer in headlights) has the whole industry in a state of severe distortion: advertisers are overpaying for dwindling print audiences, and under-paying for burgeoning online audiences.

That standoff of the last couple of years is of course now radically intensified by the economic crisis.

Like those headlights for the deer, the light at the end of our tunnel is ultimately big and bright. In the long run, the amount of money going into marketing overall isn't likely to change all that much - not by the current 10x+ differential between print ad spending and online ad spending. Companies still need brands and branding to differentiate products in the marketplace. The dynamics of competition largely determine how much ad buyers can and will spend.

Essentially, at the moment, the weight of business as usual and other classic impediments to change leave ad buyers spending the bulk of their money in all the wrong places - where their end users used to be. That is an unstable situation which will change. Eventually.

And once the agency/client complex - the ad buyers - finally drags its sorry spam over the chasm (or perhaps is pushed by economic desperation) that will largely shift the majority flow of marketing dollars. Online will see 5x increases in overall spending. At that point, print will experience its "final lurch", needing its own new models to survive, but the new media will at last see the realistic funding levels that can sustain ongoing well-layered professional/participatory publishing.

Across the chasm, where we're slowly headed, the skies are blue and the hills are green. Serve your readers, stay hungry, stay innovative, to survive the crossing and get eventually to those greener pastures.
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Postby Kevin » Sat Mar 21, 2009 9:17 pm

A shorter edited version of this viewpoint was printed as a letter to the editor in The Nation of March 30, 2009:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090330

While much of the magazine is available free online, it appears that letters are behind the subscription wall.

Nation coverage on this issue continues with a feature article in the latest issue:

The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers
by John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090406/nichols_mcchesney
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