Media: Warning: The Internet Will Eat Your Advertising the Net Has Started to Devour the Classified Revenue of the US Press. So Will Their British Counterparts Suffer a Similar Fate?
Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
IF THE computer revolution of the Seventies helped to rescue print journalism by streamlining production and cutting costs, will the communications revolution of the Nineties - the spread of the Internet - kill it off?
It is a question already looming large in the United States, where 36 per cent of the population accesses the Internet at home (compared with barely one third of that proportion in Britain) and most regional and city newspapers, not to speak of the famous names such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, can be read via the Internet. These papers are available in your own home even earlier than they hit the newsstands, and mostly they cost nothing - compared with the 25 cents to a dollar per issue (two dollars or more for the mammoth Sunday editions) you would have to pay for the real thing.
The websites vary in how much of the newspaper they make available and how often they update their stories. But only The Wall Street Journal - like the Financial Times - requires you to have a subscription to read more than a sampling. Almost the only downside for an avid newspaper reader is the requirement to register. Many newspapers want to know who their readers are, and require completion of a detailed questionnaire, including name, address and phone number. In the US, because of pervasive economic and racial segregation, this information is likely to reveal more about your personal circumstances than comparable information would do in Europe.
For the US newspapers the crunch point is the extent to which the Internet will eat into and perhaps devour their classified advertising revenue. For newspapers that have an urban or regional monopoly (and that means the majority, including such papers as The New York Times and The Washington Post), the classifieds are their lifeblood.
Uncontested advertising revenue has enabled these newspapers to maintain staffing levels through the technological revolution that are the stuff of long-distant memory in Britain. More than 800 people are employed at the Washington Post, for instance; 10 per cent of them in a department that deals with their Internet site and business.
Once these newspapers are on the Internet, their market is national and even international. Advertisers may find that they can reach potential customers more efficiently and economically on their own. Indeed, newspapers on the West Coast, in particular, are already beginning to report falling revenue from classifieds.
According to figures published in The Economist, help-wanted advertising at The Los Angeles Times fell by 8 per cent between the fourth quarter of 1997 and the same quarter of 1998; for jobs in information technology the fall was 15 per cent. At the San Jose Mercury News, classified revenue in 1998 was down by 8 per cent from the previous year's level, and help- wanted revenue by 15 per cent. …