What's the Future of Newspapers? the Big Point Is This: There Is No Single Solution That Will Replace the Revenue Juggernaut That Has Been Newspaper Advertising. in Order to Survive, Newspapers Will Need to Realize That Some Combination of Small Solutions, Not One Big Gusher, Will Be the Revenue Model in the Future
Byline: Andrew B. Davis, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
There's been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the imminent demise of newspapers as we know them and what that will mean for our democracy.
But seriously, who cares? Newspapers are, after all, just technology - a platform for delivery of information. The real question should be, where will the money come from to support newspaper-quality journalism? And, if no one's reading newspapers, what will be the delivery mechanism and how will the audience for journalism access it?
In most typical daily newspaper markets, the number of people who read a newspaper has declined steadily since the 1970s and will undoubtedly continue to decline. However, most people are consuming more news and information than ever - they're just not picking up a dead-tree derivative to do it.
As long as some people want an ink-on-paper product, there will still be printed newspapers in some form, but most newspaper organizations have figured out they need to make information available however and whenever consumers want it, and they're working furiously to do that in innovative ways. I personally like the prospect of e-readers like Amazon's Kindle.
We need not worry about access to content.
What we do need to worry about is financial support for generating that content. Television and radio reporters and even the best of bloggers will all acknowledge that their work cannot substitute for the comprehensive, in-depth reporting and analysis that is done exclusively at newspapers, and that those functions are both critical and expensive.
Most of what is consumed as news begins today in print newspaper newsrooms. That free news content on Google started in those newsrooms. (Google employs no reporters.) Rush Limbaugh doesn't have a radio program without first reading the major national newspapers. Jon Stewart doesn't have a Daily Show without that print-originated news content as a backbone. Few bloggers do primary-source reporting. Even the Huffington Post would have to find another news source were there no newspaper content to aggregate and comment on.
Print advertising, which has heretofore paid the freight for that, is on the decline at the same time as fixed costs are on the increase, and newspaper profits are being squeezed to an unprecedented degree. Advertising won't support that kind of journalism in a digital future. So what's the solution? Charge for content online? A not-for-profit model like NPR? User micropayments? Other business service revenue streams?
Maybe, maybe, maybe and yes, and those are just some of the ideas. The big point is this: There is no single solution that will replace the revenue juggernaut that has been newspaper advertising. In order to survive, newspapers will need to realize that some combination of small solutions, not one big gusher, will be the revenue model in the future.
This leads to the harsh realization that the revenue lost from traditional advertising will never be completely replaced. Newspaper companies will become smaller. …