Are newspapers dying?
That’s the raging debate in the news biz these days. Many say the ultimate demise of the daily paper is just a matter of time – and not much time at that. The future of journalism is in news websites, not newsprint, they say.
Hold on, says another group of folks. Newspapers have been with us for hundreds of years, and while all news may someday be online, papers have some life in ‘em yet.
So who’s right? I’ll outline the arguments on both sides, then you can decide.
Newspapers Are Dead
Newspapers are in trouble. Circulation is dropping, display and classified ad revenue is drying up, and the industry has experienced an unprecedented wave of layoffs. Big metro papers like the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer have gone under, and even bigger newspaper companies like the Tribune Co. are in bankruptcy.
And where are newspaper readers going? To the web. A recent study by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future found that Internet users read online newspapers for an average of 53 minutes per week in 2008. That’s the highest level recorded in the eight years the study has been done.
The bad news for newspapers? The study found that 22 percent of users said they stopped their subscription to a printed paper or magazine because they could access the same content online.
Gloomy business considerations aside, the dead-newspaper people say the Internet is just a better place to get the news.
“On the Web, newspapers are live, and they can supplement their coverage with audio, video, and the invaluable resources of their vast archives,” says Jeffrey I. Cole, director of USC's s Digital Future Center. “For the first time in 60 years, newspapers are back in the breaking news business, except now their delivery method is electronic and not paper.”
Conclusion: The Internet will kill off newspapers.
No They Aren’t – Not Yet, Anyway
Yes, newspapers are facing the toughest times ever, and yes, the Internet can offer many things that printed papers can’t.
But pundits and prognosticators have been predicting the death of newspapers for decades. Radio, TV and now the Internet were all supposed to kill them off, but they’re still here.
And while many papers are still hurting financially, there are hints that the picture will brighten as the economy gains steam.
For example, the Inland Press Association recently reported that, contrary to expectations, many papers are still profitable. And advertising research firm Borrell Associates recently predicted that newspapers' print ad revenue will actually increase 2.4 percent in 2010, and 8.7 percent by 2014.
"That will be short of its 2008 level, but a long way from extinction,” Colby Atwood, Borrell Associates’ president, told Business Insider.
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, says the widespread newspaper industry layoffs of the last few years, while painful, should make papers more viable when the recession ends.
“At the end of the day, these companies are operating more leanly now,” Edmonds said. “The business will be smaller and there may be more reductions, but there should enough profit there to make a viable business for some years to come.”
And those who claim that the future of news is online and only online ignore one critical point: Online ad revenue just isn’t enough to support most news companies, not in the way print advertising does. So for online-only news organizations to survive, they’ll need an as-yet undiscovered business model.
As for readership, while it’s true that news websites are gaining ground on newspapers, Martin Langeveld, a columnist for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, recently found that more than 96 percent of newspaper reading is still done in the print editions. The online share of the newspaper audience only amounts to about 3 percent, he found.
Conclusion: Until someone figures out how to make online news sites profitable, newspapers aren't going anywhere.