Monday, March 7, 2005

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Bad news or really bad news for newspapers?

Is print dying? A Pew Internet survey of how Americans got their information during the 2004 campaign suggests that maybe the answer is yes. Anick Jesdanun explains for the Associated Press:

Reliance on the Internet for political news during last year's presidential campaign grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers dropped sharply, according to a study issued Sunday.
Eighteen percent of American adults cited the Internet as one of their two main sources of news about the presidential races, compared with 3% in 1996. The reliance on television grew slightly to 78%, up from 72%.

Meanwhile, the influence of newspapers dropped to 39% last year, from 60% in 1996, according to the joint, telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Nonetheless, Americans who got campaign news over the Internet were more likely to visit sites of major news organizations like CNN and The New York Times (43 percent) rather than Internet-only resources such as candidate Web sites and Web journals, known as blogs (24 percent).

Twenty-eight percent said they primarily used news pages of America Online, Yahoo and other online services, which carry dispatches from traditional news sources like The Associated Press and Reuters.

"It's a channel difference not a substantive difference," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet group and author of the study. "Newspaper executives probably now have to think of themselves less as newspaper people and more as content people."

....Fifty-eight percent of political news users cited convenience as their main reason for using the Internet. This group was more likely to use the Internet sites of traditional news organizations or online services.

But one-third of political news consumers cited a belief that they did not get all the news and information they wanted from papers and television, and another 11% said the Web had information not available elsewhere. These individuals were more likely to visit blogs or campaign sites for information.

And blogs, Rainie said, likely had an indirect influence on what campaigns talked about and what news organizations covered.

Click here for Editor & Publisher's take on the report. I'm not sure how much newspapers should be panicking in terms of content -- what appears to be happening is that many people have substituted an online version of their newspaper for the print version. Nevertheless, the secular decline is evident, which should scare the business side of the press. The fact that many people are reading even online newspapers through the editorial filter of either an online news page or a blog is what should rattle editors.

The actual Pew study can be found here -- and here's a link to Michael Cornfield's analysis of the Internet's effect on the 2004 election. Key paragraph:

The numbers of American citizens who turn to the internet for campaign politics may dip in 2005 and the off-year election in 2006, in the absence of a presidential election. But a return to pre-2000 or even pre-2002 levels of engagement seems unlikely. As broadband connections proliferate and hum, the old mass audience for campaigns is being transformed into a collection of interconnected and overlapping audiences (global, national, partisan, group, issue-based, candidate-centered). Each online audience has a larger potential for activism than its offline counterparts simply because it has more communications and persuasion tools to exploit. This transformation makes life in the public arena more complex.


posted by Dan on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM


"what appears to be happening is that many people have substituted an online version of their newspaper for the print version" this really what is happening when it comes to things that actually generate revenue for newspapers? Seems to me that much of the classified ad business is migrating to nationally-branded web sites: job recruiting sites, used car sites, auction sites, etc.

posted by: David Foster on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Given the dramatically lower revenues that newspapers get from print subscribers, due to the much lower rates they are able to charge for internet advertising, print media should indeed be panicking; if the New York Times magically converted all its current subscribers to web subscribers, they'd lose money hand over fist. They aren't panicking yet, because the business side doesn't quite see the writing on the wall. But they will. And us journalists who provide high quality, expensive content should be panicking too.

posted by: Jane Galt on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

I'm shying away from the media in general as a source of my news. There have been way too many instances of reporters either flat out lying, being absolutely clueless about their subjects and putting out bad information, or only giving their biased side of a story. I now can't accept any story as true or accurate without some other form of corroboration.

Blogs are excellent at finding, linking to, and critiquing stories in the press and I use them as such. What's more, they're basically categorized in that respect based on the bloggers' interests.

posted by: Justin on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

"I'm shying away from the media in general as a source of my news. "

"Blogs are excellent at finding, linking to, and critiquing stories in the press ..."


posted by: praktike on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

"us journalists who provide high quality"


posted by: Andrew Steele on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Andrew, maybe she meant US, i.e. American journalists. I'm just saying it's possible.

posted by: Zathras on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Well, US newspapers may have a problem with readership, but print is by no way out for the count. Last week, The Economist announced that circulation is now topping a record one million copies a week. The paper was launched in 1843 and 50 years later it was only selling 6,000 copies. In 1994 circulation was just over 550,000 copies. Now, it's a million! And there's no reason to expect that it won't grow further. Good writing, which is all too rare, is still craved, regardless of the wrapper.

posted by: Eamonn Fitzgerald on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

First, Happy International Women's Day!!!

Second, re newspaper and magazine circulation - I believe the daily broadsheet's days are numbered. People don't have time to read all of the junk contained in broadsheets. Tabloids, on the other hand, are easier to read on public transportation and usually offer bite-size news which makes them appealing to a younger audience. So, I think newspapers are going to have to change their stripes to compete in the next twenty-five years. (This topic was covered last night on the PBS show, "Chicago Tonight" - apparently the Chicago Tribune, a broadsheet, is testing the appeal of a tabloid version of the paper. The Sun-Times, by the way, is a tabloid. I think generally, the writing in the Sun-Times is poorer quality than the Trib, but I could understand subscribing to it for Roger Ebert's columns.)

On the other hand, I'm extremely grateful that I got a gift subscription to the Sunday New York Times. I love having a copy of the paper to curl up with while watching the Sunday morning talk shows.

The Economist is in a completely separate category from newspapers. I enjoy weekly and monthly magazines even though I get most of my daily news from the internet because news magazines tend to have more analysis articles. It's shocking to me that The Economist didn't already have a million subscribers worldwide. I work in print advertising, and to me it's a matter of marketing the magazine properly and bringing the subscription rate down enough to make it worthwhile for the occasional reader to subscribe. If The Economist was really interested in a significantly higher circ, they'd offer more subscription discounts. I think they're happy with their demographics and wouldn't want to "dilute" their readership with folks who are interested in the magazine but can't afford the regular subscription price.

posted by: Cynthia on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]


The data to watch for are circulation figures and advertising rates - the latter is tied to the former. There are many, many indications that big-city newspaper circulation is tubing in most areas, and that those papers have been fudging their circulation figures to the point of fraud.

Another datum to look for are revenue "adjustments" in the annual reports of newspaper corporations and holding companies, as those are often the result of advertiser pressure (including the results of compulsory arbitration) concerning inflated bills that they had paid.

In most instances advertising rates are tied to circulation figures subject to contractual adjustments aka give-backs when circulation falls below targets. Disputes over this are generally resolved by binding arbitration pursuant to contract, with the arbitrations being subject to non-disclosure agreements so the public doesn't hear about them.

Newspapers and their holding companies go to great lengths to keep all such matters secret. This includes hiding pertinent statistics by such means as lumping print advertising revenue together with advertising revenue from TV and radio stations owned by the same companies.

The LA Times seems to be in serious trouble in this regard. Ask Roger Simon.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

Cynthia reminded me of new approach the Washington Post has taken. About one year ago, they began giving away a tabloid version of the Post. Main stories, info-tainment pieces of one minute reading material. Lots of ads spread throughout. Many subway commuters grab the tabloid and read on the train to their destination.

I'm not sure how the Washington Post, tabloid version squares with Tom's point about circulation numbers (how many Washington Post subscribers grab the tabloid version to read on the train?) but it's an interesting twist on the declining readership problem.

posted by: EG on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

The daily broadsheet is NOT in decline. And this report is nothing new to clueful newspaper business departments. Most papers have been planning for this changing market for years and have adapted in several ways. One fairly recent innovation involves setting up online self-service advertising systems so that classified and display advertisers can purchase, design and place ads over the paper's Web site. This has generated upsells of over 30 percent in some markets. There's a lot more to it, I suppose. Including the prolifereation of free Express-style tabloids in certain areas. According to Classified Intelligence, a newsletter on newspaper advertising, there are over 1,400 daily newspapers in this country. About 10 are losing money but most are making lots of it. So I think your analysis of the newspaper industry is not accurate.

posted by: Andrew Ackerman on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]


Check out this Editor & Publisher link which I found on Instapundit today:

Note the specific reference to the LA Times.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.07.05 at 06:17 PM [permalink]

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