Can Papers Net a Profit?

By Lesseur, Jany | UNESCO Courier, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Can Papers Net a Profit?


Lesseur, Jany, UNESCO Courier


More and more newspapers and periodicals are going online. How is electronic technology affecting the production and consumption of the printed word?

Of all the attractions, possibilities and uncertainties of the Internet, one of those raising the most speculation centres on its impact on the production, distribution and consumption of information and news. In a recent report on the future of the printed press in a digital world, Dutch media analyst Monique van Dusseldorp notes that "Newspapers as carriers of content have had to yield various functions in the past century to radio and television services, and now there are other categories of information that might migrate, this time to the net.... Unexpected competitors such as search engines and free homepage services, as well as the online services of television stations, now fight in the same arena for the user's attention and the limited advertising money available."

The fact is that the media cannot ignore the fast and furious pace with which use of the Internet is growing. At a conference on the electronic press held in Lyon, France, in October 1998, Randy Bennet, of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), said that "The Internet market is expected to increase from around 150 million users worldwide today to almost 300 million by the year 2001." Surveys conducted by the American company Forrester Research forecast that worldwide online expenditure on advertising will rise from almost $2 billion today to about $15 billion in 2003. "The numbers tell us that the Internet will continue to develop as a mass medium, that advertisers will increasingly shift dollars to this medium and that traditional media will have to figure out their role in this new space," Bennet said. Miguel Angel Bastanier, director of international relations with the Spanish daily El Pais, pointed out that "every newspaper will have to be on the Internet as a service to its public and as a means of self-promotion. It cannot run the risk of seeing its readers obtain this service from its competitors."

In fact, the written press has turned to the Internet in order to stay competitive with the other online media. American Journalism magazine stated recently that there are 3,622 digital newspapers worldwide. A year ago, there were only some 900 outside the United States, as against 1,563 in 1998, largely as a result of the increasing number in Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, Brazil and Germany. Yet, in spite of all the effort and investment, not a single online newspaper can be considered profitable.

The Wall Street Journal: an eloquent exception

One of the main dilemmas editors are trying to resolve lies in switching from newsprint to the computer screen and in making money without replacing the original medium, in other words without readers giving up the traditional format and changing over permanently to the electronic version.

"The important thing is not so much going on the Internet as staying on it without losing money on the printed version," says Andre Jaunin, founder and manager of Edicom, the Internet site of the Swiss group Edipresse, which publishes a number of newspapers and magazines including Le Matin, Tribune de Geneve, Bilan and Optima. "The idea is not to display all the contents of the printed version," he says. "We consider that it is absurd to offer the newspaper we are selling on the streets free of charge on the Web. Our electronic publication is different from the printed version. The news items it contains are brief and are updated every ten minutes. They are designed to be expanded in the following day's printed edition." However, hard information is not enough. The new technologies have to be used to keep Internet readers interested. Some of the approaches which the electronic press can offer to please the public and advertisers include personalized services, free e-mail, interactive articles and opportunities to swap ideas via chat forums. …

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