Internet

Newspapers: A Long History of Giving Away the Story, and the Store

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Time's "Curious Capitalist" Justin Fox jousts with newspaper industry analysts who gripe that papers need to stop giving away their precious commodity online by arguing that they've more or less been doing that on dead paper forever. An excerpt:

….it's not really about a generation gap. News was already pretty close to free long before the Internet came along. It was free on TV, free on the radio, and effectively free in newspapers when you consider all the valuable stuff that came packaged with it for 25 or 50 cents, from comics to crosswords to classifieds to supermarket ads. And unlike, say, a song–which was free on the radio but worth spending money on to be able to play again and again whenever you wanted to hear it–a day-old newspaper was usually less than worthless.

What's hurting newspapers now is not the fact that people were willing to pay for news offline and aren't willing to do so online, but that their days as the monopoly conduit of timely written information into Americans' homes are over. The delivery boys have been displaced by Comcast and AT&T and Google and Yahoo, and there's no way newspapers will ever reclaim that role.

Here is LA Times man David Lazarus making the arguments Fox is trying to contradict.

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  1. One thing that the newspaper journos forget is that most local TV stations have sites too and are updated as frequently as the local paper sites.

    And that live weather / traffic data is the greatest driver to these sites. And they will always be free.

  2. Find the right business model, but first knowing your business. What are newspapers selling? News. When are people willing to buy news? When it is new. (Hence the name).

    Thus a possible business model of online news is to sell subscriptions to see the news while it is new (less than 24 hours old), but no charge to view it later.

  3. Find the right business model, but first knowing your business. What are newspapers selling? News.

    This misconstrues who the true customers of newspapers really are.

    The true customers of all media aren’t the readers/viewers/consumers. Its the advertisers.

    Media doesn’t really exist to deliver news and entertainment to the average joe. It exists to deliver the attention of the average joe to advertisers.

    This is obviously true of “free media” like radio and broadcast TV. Many newspapers are also free to the public – your local alt weekly, for example. Most likely, your big daily makes far more money from advertising than subscriptions.

  4. The newspaper has evolved from a single-page broadside into a multi-page smorgasbord of diverse interests; a reader could easily spend an entire day reading just the daily paper. But we don’t spend an entire day reading all that is available; we read what interests us most, and then fling the rest aside in order to pick up the remote.

    On-line lets us be selective readers, without the hefting of the entire newspaper. Readers focus upon what interests them, and then ‘click’ on to what they want next. The ‘click’ is a page turn, but without any of the ink smudges, the Sections B-E falling on the floor, or the sheer mass of accumulated waste piling up in a corner of the garage. And if the reader wants the unvarnished, unfiltered, raw news from around the world, then there is no way that a newspaper can compete with on-line, where with a ‘click’ one can read from Pakistan what ACTUALLY happened in Pakistan, without the American newspaper editor sanitizing the events.

    And finally, on-line is not just ‘raw’ news, it is ‘citizen-raw.’ Newspapers cannot begin to match the raw retail nature of on-line. For good or ill, on-line is reader interactive to an extent that a newspaper finds impossible to compete against.

    The daily newspaper is our next buggy-whip industry; the rise of computer literate adolescents will end the newspaper as the preferred means of reading the news.

  5. The daily newspaper is our next buggy-whip industry

    And journalism-school students must be starting to feel like blacksmiths right about now.
    Will there be blog schools?

  6. Blogging, the new MBA: Masters in Blogging Asininely.

  7. In the words of Dr. Egon Spengler, “print is dead”.

  8. Why I am no longer a newspaper journalist (despite majoring in it. Damn my academic adviser!)

  9. Gen Y dog was housebroken on a laptop.

  10. …a day-old newspaper was usually less than worthless.

    Maybe so, but you can’t wrap fish in a website…

  11. The only people who need to be worried about the end of print newspapers are printers and those who build newspaper presses. Oh, paperboys, too. Somehow I’m sure it’s cheaper for a newspaper to exist solely online than it is to deliver print copies to newsboxes and subscribers homes every day. My local newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal (the home of reason.com favorite Chip Bok), seems to have grasped this, with partnerships with apartments.com and cars.com to prop up ad revenue.

  12. Be afraid, print journalists.
    Be very afraid.

  13. Maybe so, but you can’t wrap fish in a website…

    Or line a bird cage.

    Seriously, take it from a multi-channel marketing guy (and former newspaper reporter), print is far from dead. Oh, newspapers as we know them are on their way out…but that hardly means that journalism is a buggy whip industry or that news will not continue to be spread by print.

    Newspapers have adopted websites for the same reason online retailers are adopting print catalogs…because the drift between the two is greater than the sum of the parts.

    In any case, the folks saying print is dead and journalism as a career is over are likely the same ones who – 10 years ago – said you could start an online business without worrying about profits.

    In the end, someone still has to write the stories.

    Journalist, at the basics, are trained to do that. Bloggers can do that too – but many don’t. Most merely cater to opinions while a handful stand out for remarkable journalistic qualities combined with personality and market savvy.

    The facts are, like the online world, print is getting ready for a resurgence because technology is making it cheaper and easier for individuals to print their own high-quality products.

  14. “Journalist, at the basics, are trained to do that. Bloggers can do that too – but many don’t. Most merely cater to opinions while a handful stand out for remarkable journalistic qualities combined with personality and market savvy”.

    Are you talking about bloggers or journalists here? From my vantage point as a media consumer, the statement applies equally to both.

  15. And journalism-school students must be starting to feel like blacksmiths right about now. Will there be blog schools?

    Already making the transition. Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications

    …a day-old newspaper was usually less than worthless.
    Maybe so, but you can’t wrap fish in a website…

    When was the last time you saw fish wrapped in newsprint?

  16. “And journalism-school students must be starting to feel like blacksmiths right about now.”

    They can only wish they were in demand like blacksmiths are these days. My real estate/ contracting work has dried up badly but my custom ironwork still has strong demand. I haven’t built a new house in six months but I’m busy at the anvil.

  17. There will always be a fair amount of idiots like me that pay for newspapers (three plus the Reason subscription). Despite almost everything being available online, I don’t think I could ever click enough stories to know everything, like I do now. Newspapers force me to read stuff I would never waste time looking for on the web.

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