Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The End of Newspapers is Nigh

Watching our local metro newspaper shrink relentlessly, I am regularly drawn into thoughts about the future of this institution, one that has served advertisers back nearly 300 years.  It doesn't look good.

I worked for newspapers for ten years (1995-2004) and saw, from the inside, what was taking place in this industry.  The big blow was, of course, the departure of classified advertising to the digital marketplace (Craigslist being a notable destination.)  But the increase in alternative advertising channels, decline in readership among younger age cohorts, highly partisan editorial positions, and rise of the Internet as a news source also eroded readership figures.  Declining ad revenue reduces "news holes" which leads to further ad revenue decline, and on and on.

Our local paper has been pushing its digital service, but it isn't catching fire, particularly because it is not device-friendly and has certain inconveniences: and it possesses all of the liabilities of the printed form in terms of lack of timeliness and poor ad response.

I'm actually quite surprised that a printed newspaper still arrives in my driveway each morning.  I fully expect a wave of newspaper closures and consolidations to take place, with the ultimate result that the classic urban "local" newspaper will cease to exist.  My sense is that in the intermediate run notable national formats will consolidate from the local markets (e.g. Wall Street Journal and USA Today) and expand their bases, but even these organs are impacted.  It's hard to see how that business model can serve advertisers especially in local markets.

Newspapers are not the be-all and end-all.  They only arose about fourteen generations ago.  When they first became commonplace people traveled slowly by boat or horse, we kept warm by a fireplace, and lived on farms.  Times have changed in so many ways and this is an institution that had an unusually long run.

Bottom Line:  We cannot depend on newspapers to effectively advertise our businesses if for no other reason than that the format is shifting to something better.  If you are heavily invested in newspapers, start giving thought to new ways to promote what you do.

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