The Future of Newspapers, Redux

21 Sep ’05

Pressure continues to build in the newspaper business. Major papers continue to search for new revenue streams as the eBays and Craigslists of the world hold newspaper circulations and classifieds down on the ground and beat them senseless. Layoffs abound – the NYT reported 500 yesterday, this the same week they announced that Op-Ed columnists and other content will now be provided on a fee basis. Buyouts have been announced this week in Philadelphia’s dailies, and layoffs may follow.

The role newspapers play in providing the best content will hopefully not change any time soon. At first blush it seems that blogging has changed the face of content, but in terms of quality the vast majority of blogs can’t given even the humblest cub reporter a run for his money, and the blogosphere is still for the most part a massive echo chamber recycling the content of the major media and select A list bloggers. There is simply no substitute for much of the content generated by the print media. And with the descent into media concentration madness we’ve seen in recent years, there is no other voice left that has the resources to defend the citizenry.

But the free online content model that newspapers use is not working – the world is moving online and it’s not taking its paper with it (the only time I touch a newspaper now is at brunch – some traditions die hard). But making the first move to a paid content model is a very hard thing to do – the internet has exploded competition by bringing every other content provider to within a single click (my favourite metaphor? simile? is apt here – the internet is mankind’s single best invention for squeezing margins until they shriek in pain). And the competing providers of community services – classifieds and the like – are eating the papers’ lunch with the services they offer. Paid content will not be enough. New models are needed. With the exception of a very few – WSJ, NYT, perhaps others – the traditional newspaper is dead as a business model.

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