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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Are print newspapers doomed?

As I continue observing Main Street, I notice a lot more driveways without the morning paper, both on Sunday and during the week. Is the death knell being sounded for the daily newspaper? The economy could be a factor as discontinuing the paper is one way to save about $5 a week. But, I think it is more than that. Newspaper subscriptions have been dropping for years and many nationally known papers have gone out of business. With the internet and TV, the daily hard copy paper has become a Model T in the age of jet travel.

In October, the East Valley Tribune dropped its coverage of Scottsdale and Tempe. They will now serve only the East Valley with emphasis on Mesa and Gilbert. They will also be a four day a week publication free to the public. They say that seven day per week coverage will be through their online edition. These cutbacks included a layoff of 142 jobs or 40% of their workers.

The key words are "online edition." That’s the way many papers are going. It allows them to compete with the immediacy of the 24 hour TV news stations and it is a lot less expensive to operate. Advertising is a main source of revenue and if you read any online editions, you will notice that there is no scarcity of ads surrounding the stories. Whether they have the same effect as a newspaper ad, I do not know but it may get to the point where it doesn’t matter. Long time Phoenix journalist Jana Bommersbach reports "Subscriptions are down, advertising revenue is down, and there are only so many cuts you can make in a business with expensive overhead–big buildings, larger printing plants, miles of newsprint, all that ink, a cumbersome distribution system, etc."

Other factors in the success of online editions is the emergence of the blogger. Many bloggers have large followings which means that every time a reader tunes in to them, they will be getting impressions of ads surrounding the blogs which in turn can mean increased revenue. And, since bloggers are normally unpaid, it is all plus business.

People want their news fast. If it happened at 10:00 this morning they don’t want to wait until they pick up their paper in the driveway at 5:00 tomorrow morning to read about it. Many have decided that they also don’t want to have to pay for that type of service through subscriptions when they can get news immediately for free.

The handwriting may be on the wall for hard copy papers but, as I have said before, I am a newspaper guy and I love to read my morning paper with a cup of Joe. I suppose the hard copy edition will survive but in an unfamiliar form. That is what the East Valley Tribune found out.

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