News & Criticism

Kill Your Newspaper? Filloux Flings Fillip at Floundering Feuilletons


Take Hitler and put him in the funny pages!

If you have, as I have, closed your heart to pity, you may find yourself agreeing with Marc Andreessen, partial inventor of the standard web browser, who says in an interview with TechCrunch that it's time to euthanize newspaper print editions and focus solely on virtual media.

Frédéric Filloux of Monday Note points out that Andreessen has been calling for publishers to jettison paper for some time:

A year earlier, he called publishers to "stop the presses tomorrow", saying to TV host Charlie Rose: "…I'll tell you what. The stocks would go up. The investors are through [with] the transition. You talk to any smart investor who controls any amount of money, he will tell you that the game is up. Like it's completely over. And so the investors have completely written off print operations. There is no value in these stock prices attributable to print anymore at all. It's gone. (…) How many years of chronic pain do you want to take to avoid taking a year of acute pain?"

Filloux says whatever the French equivalent of "hold your horses" is, but in English. He notes, as I noted recently, that print is still bringing in the vast portion of revenue. The Washington Post, for example, brought in $679 million for 2009, of which $317 million came from print advertising and $100 million from the online operation. Says Filloux:

We are no longer in the old configuration where one-tenth of the revenue came from online operations, we're now at 14% of the entire newspaper revenue; and the online advertising share is now 31% of the paper advertising revenue. This changes the landscape.

In the recession, online ad revenue has been declining less rapidly than print advertising, but you can see from these numbers that discontinuing the print operation is a lot easier for an outsider to suggest than for a publisher to do.

Print ads still bring in a heap of money. They could be bringing in more, but ad sales forces at newspapers are…um…they tend to be…well…let's just say other careers may attract a different caliber of professional. (I said different, not better! Everybody can be special in old media.) And the numbers above look less impressive when you consider the vast costs in inflated salaries, physical plant, delivery and other non-news-gathering and non-revenue-creating expenses that print brings.

But when you look at the source of every dollar of income, the seemingly settled case for ending print in a legacy publication looks less clear.

Newspaper professionals are screwed. They deserve to be screwed. I wish them nothing but misery, tears and bigger screwings in the future. But they are legitimately screwed, with no real solution to their problem.

Filloux hints that "newspapers's tendency to become daily magazines could breed a fruitful transformation." This sounds like the old "smaller-but-better-circulation" plan that has ended in sorrow many times in the past. I presume the French have more of a tragic sense than Americans, so it's surprising that Filloux misses the real truth: Newspapers can't survive if they don't change, and they can't survive if they change. There's nothing ahead but defeat, and all they can do is keep marching. It's beautiful in a way.

Courtesy of Jack Shafer.

NEXT: Do You Want to Govern Yourself? Instapundit Talks With Pollster Scott Rasmussen

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  1. Half a league half a league,
    Half a league onward,

    Newspapers can’t survive if they don’t change, and they can’t survive if they change. There’s nothing ahead but defeat, and all they can do is keep marching. It’s beautiful in a way.

    All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred:
    ‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns’ he said:
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    1. Alas, alack. I came just to post this, but you beat me to it with a kindred quote from the same event:

      “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre. C’est de la folie” (It is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness.) – Marshal Pierre Bosquet

  2. I’ll miss the morning paper.

    Oh, wait, no I don’t. Already. And a whole bunch of other people as well.

    So too many people don’t/won’t miss the paper(s). But, to your point, it only makes sense to shut down the print side of the bidness now if doing so results in better cashflow, more profit/less loss, a better balance sheet, etc. And if there’s a plan coming out the other end that’s a better business model.

    If not – may as well ride that sumbitch down and get every last nickel out of it you can. Rational.

    1. Sometimes it’s nice to get a free newspaper when staying at a hotel. Otherwise I never read, subscribe, or pay for a print paper any more.

      1. Ditto. I still like reading the paper – but I can’t be bothered with hardcopy unless it’s free. Weird…been reading the paper since 6th grade – and just stopped “like that”.

        1. It’s sad and liberating to learn how easily you can fall out of love. I spent most of my life fetishizing just the form of newspapers. And then one day it was all gone.

        2. Damn. I just lost my carefully composed paean to the newspaper and all other dead tree media.I used to read so much and so religiously.Newspapers took precedence over food when I was poor.They are great for draining bacon and fried foods when you can’t afford paper towels as well

        3. I blame computer games and my incredible laziness. I used to spend two hours or so reading the sunday newspaper. Then I realized I could spend a half hour skimming articles online from three or four papers and spend the rest of the time playing computer games. That killed my sunday subscription.

          I used to buy the newspaper from the box on my way to catch the train every morning and read through it on way to work. Then one day they moved the box about 100 feet away to the otherside of the station and it wasn’t worth the trouble to walk over there. Just spend a half hour at work skimming a mix of newspapers online and read a book on the train.

          Then nothing. No more newspapers. I didn’t even miss them.

          Last time I bought a paper was last year when I got a couple of sunday papers at the store for packing material for my move.

  3. Newspapers are great for when you have to go into a restaurant alone (which happens a lot on the road) or when you have to go into a restaurant with someone you don’t like (which happens a lot on the road.)

    The other time newspapers are useful is as a sanitary/disposable alternative to something more durable.

    No, I don’t want to hold your new Kindle. Why? Because I think I know where it’s been!

    I think I’d rather have to use your hairbrush.

    1. And they work as a quick blanket to keep the birdshit off in the park.

    2. Where, exactly, do you think the kindle has been?

      1. Don’t ever touch a remote control in a hotel room either

      2. Where, exactly, do you think the kindle has been?

        They’re sitting on the can with it! That’s for newspapers, okay? That was okay with newspapers.

        Dude excuses himself from a meeting the other day–he’s out like 25 minutes, obviously goes to the john. Comes back, and the first thing he wants to do is show me an email he just remembered he had on his iPhone…

        Dude. Do not hand me your phone. Damn thing has a touchscreen on it!

  4. It’s disappointing to see this thread descend to the scatological so quickly. I’ll attempt to retrieve some decorum by asking Tim whether Bigger Screwings (a John Candy movie perhaps) was a reference to chubbies or fat chicks?

    1. I apologize. But really, the newspaper was good for that, and a Kindle or an iPad really isn’t an adequate replacement, I’m afraid. And, honestly, I suspect a lot of people still get it delivered so they can read it…like that.

      And then there’s the coupons.

      1. And then there’s the coupons.

        Which are an extra bonus for those who work as a cashier at a grocery store or supermarket.

        1. For some reason, people will throw coupons in the trash if you send them to ’em direct mail, but if you bundle them up with the Sunday paper? People will pay extra for the paper!

          Go figure.

          That’s what the newspaper business had that made them good business models though–they had a better, more responsive distribution system than the post office. In DC, when I was a kid, they used to give you your own mail box, just for the paper…

          Internet’s better at that though, hand’s down.

          Distribution is still a great barrier to entry in a lot of businesses though, just not with media. I’m surprised Blockbuster’s been able to stay in business so long, but I think they’ve gotta be next.

          I’d like to talk to them about what they’re planning to do with all that real estate. ; )

          1. I was mostly talkin’ about where those coupons had been… being in those bathroom newspapers and all.

            But then there’s cash, like those green pieces of currency, and who knows where the fuck that shit’s been!

      2. Kroger has an online system for coupons where you enter in your shopper’s card number, and when you scan it at the store, it automatically gives you the coupon discounts. Why would I look at the newspaper coupons when Kroger’s are all online and Costco doesn’t have them?

  5. In the late ’90s I was working for a newspaper owned by the Tribune Company. Their stock had recently split and they were flying high. My boss said, “Ed, long after you and I are dead and forgotten, the Tribune Company will be making money.” I got out a couple years later and rolled all my acquired stock when it was still worth something. Tribune is bankrupt now, of course. Nobody at the newspaper, not a single person, saw it coming.

    1. Nobody at the newspaper, not a single person, saw it coming.
      Somehow I am not surprised that they missed the biggest story of their lives when it was right in front of their faces.

      1. They were too busy celebrating their 25% profit margins. The self-congratulatory awards ceremonies were quite a spectacle (before doom struck at the millennium). They’d rent an arena at the waterfront and make speeches and give out plaques to all the drones who put in 80-hour weeks and neglected their families so they could get nice plaques at awards ceremonies. The food was good, though.

  6. But, but, I need paper to do my KenKen and Sudoku…

    1. They make whole compendiums of those.

      1. Ridiculous.

  7. Sunday morning with the paper was a nice habit but I haven’t done it for a while. I’m told that the classifieds are about a page long now. I guess if it wasn’t for the legals they would disappear entirely.

    But when the papers are gone what will I light my wood stove with?

    … Hobbit

    1. Having moved far too often, I keep some of the paper they wrapped all our stuff in.

      If you haven’t moved recently, probably an expensive way to get paper 🙂 But you can always buy a big ole wad of the stuff from North American van lines…

  8. With the invention of the tractor, everyone wondered what all the farm hands would do for work, and got scared that they’d just be permanantly unemployed. This sort of scenario sparked the Luddite movement.

    Happily, the former farm hands and textile workers found work building cars, washing machines, and TVs. The world went through the Industrial Revolution, and life was better for the whole world because of it.

    So what if newspaper reporters are the modern day equivalent of the old timey farm hands? Maybe now they can get around to doing something actually productive? Long live the Computer/Internet Revolution!

    Viva la Technological Progress!

    1. Reminds me of a old story from The Onion:

      The Machine: Will It Replace The Chinaman?

  9. I stopped buying the Pulitzer flagship Post-Dispatch long, long ago because it was little more than a DNC press release parrot, but even then it had some substance to it. Today it’s been gutted of that remnant of substance, is just as left wing, has tripled in price for the daily and has maybe 10 pages of worthwhile content.

    I’m stunned it’s able to stay open.

    1. I work for Lee, the company that owns the Post-Dispatch. And yes, newspapers are, in large part, nothing but repositories of left-wing ideologues who are willing mouthpieces for liberal groups of all stripes.

  10. All the lefty hipster doofuses and extreme Gaia worshippers should welcome the death of the daily printed newspaper.

    Think of all the trees we won’t have to cut down any more, and all that extra carbon dioxide they’ll be able to soak up.

  11. When the local Hearst product, The Seattle P.I. announced it was ending the print edition, I read the article.
    There were two items that got my attention.

    The P.I. admitted it hadn’t made a profit in 7 years.

    All the employees said they were “shocked and surprised” at the closing.

    Go figure.

    1. All the employees said they were “shocked and surprised” at the closing.

      “You mean a business has to make money? Who knew?”

      1. Priests aren’t supposed to make money. They’re doing god’s work.

  12. The papers that are folding are the big “national” journals mainly regurgitating AP wire stories.

    OTOH my wife works for a small-town weekly that prints exclusively local news. It runs stories on city/county/school district government, high school and junior high sports, local society, and features about local people and families. The paper successfully competes with a local “daily” with AP. The weekly is six years old, with consistently expanding readership, and has been in the black since the end of the first year.

    1. Ding Ding Ding Ding. We have a winner. The statement “Newspapers can’t survive if they don’t change, and they can’t survive if they change.“. There always have been and will always be some form of newspaper around. The big newspaper organizations may fail but newspapers will never completely go away.

    2. Same in our neighborhood.

    3. My local daily is *trying* to do the changeover from traditional paper to locally-focused one. The first (“A”) section has all of the local news, although the front page is still–about half the time–devoted to national stories. The sports section does a good job of local HS/College coverage. The majority of national news is relegated to its own (“C”) section. Bonus plus: The exapanded Sunday Opinion section always has an piece from Reason(!), despite the fact that the paper is pretty-much a right-wing mouthpiece.

  13. Newspapers are great for when you have to go into a restaurant alone…

    Neither filmmakers nor legit theater directors have yet come up with compelling replacements for traditional bits of business like a character reading a newspaper while waiting for another character to show up, an underling walking into a boss’ office to slap an important plot development down on the boss’ desk, an extra seeing in the paper that war has been declared or the Flying Circus is coming to town, a spy disreetly watching a mark in a hotel lobby etc.

    Don’t bail out newspapers for news. Do it for Broadway.

    1. Somehow, eating fish & chips wrapped in a kindle or an I-Pad just doesn’t seem to have the same panache. And using my laptop to line the birdcage just doesn’t seem right (even at the rate tech seems to become obsolete).

      Heh, Arthur Treacher’s meets The Matrix.

      I would also prefer not to throw my PDA at a fly when the fly swatter isn’t handy, my aim isn’t that good.

    2. I saw someone on the telly the other day, sitting a cafe table, trying to bring up a news article on his iPhone, to show to the camera. All this swiping and resizing and zooming in with the fingers.

      It just looked stupid with all the finger gesturing and squinting at the tiny screen. Maybe a Kindle would look a bit more intelligent.

    3. LuK@ bR@s1 Sl33pz w f1Sh, LOL

    4. Yeah, and what are spies going to hide behind in movies of the future?

  14. Time to stop killin’ trees for fish wrap.
    Buggy whips they are.

  15. May the iPad put a wooden stake through the heart of newsprint!

  16. Rosebud!

  17. You can also clean glass windows with newspaper, stuff birdcages with it, make paper mache animals, wrap presents with it, cut out bits for ransom letters… the possibilities are endless. I’d miss it if it goes.

    1. Correction:

      You do all that (except the ransom notes) with newsPRINT – the actual paper. Which you can buy. And blank newsprint works better for many purposes than ink-smeared newsprint.

  18. I know what I want. I want an e-paper display, roughly tabloid size, foldable, virtually indestructible. I want to be able to download virtually any paper, via wi-fi, for at or very close to newsstand price. I would be willing to pay up to $150 for such a mythical device, but probably not more. By the time such a thing is available, there might not be any newspapers left to read. If not for that, I don’t think you could make them fast enough to keep up with demand. A disposable sanitary cover would be a definite plus.

  19. I work for a newspaper.
    Every day, I look at the obit page and think, “Well, there go X number of subscriptions …”
    I’m 41, and I don’t think I will reach 50 before my newspaper — the “paper” part of it — is dead.
    Our Web product, free of charge, has nothing to sell outside of ads nobody clicks on.
    It is a frightening time for me and for my family.
    In so many ways, I deserve and almost need to be obsolete. That way, my choices would be clear-cut. Right now, I’m careening through a cosmic vapor of uncertainty.
    If I were less frightened and able to shred the anxiety, watching this from my insider position would be fascinating.
    I don’t think I will ever have any other career outside of writing. I just don’t know what form it will take in the future.
    Reason, you need to hire this award-winning journalist.

    1. Oh, and Cavanaugh?
      Your heartfelt compassion for the tens of thousands who will be losing their jobs is much appreciated. You smarmy cunt.

      1. Cavanaugh has a future with us.

        1. Cavanaugh has a future of being a self-satisfied cock lover. … Wait. That’s his present.

          1. You’ve got love that “award-winning” wit.

            Those “tens of thousands” will be losing their current jobs and be forced to find work elsewhere. It sucks, but that’s what happens. I sacrificed my dreams and self respect to make sure I have roof over my head, health insurance, and food on the table. I will kill myself in a week. Ah…The circle of life.

            1. “I will kill myself in a week.” Let me read over your posts to decide if that’s a lousy idea.

      2. Maybe if they hadn’t been printing lies for like, oh, the past half-century, some of us might have some sympathy.

        1. Douglas, you can’t imagine what it’s like being a libertarian in a newsroom in a liberal town like Missoula, Montana. I’m a fucking leper, and they have no desire to give me the syringe.

          1. Well, I used to live in DC.

            I have sympathy for your current plight of course but as for the industry, well, they’re just too smart for their own good, I guess.

          2. Jamie – I can relate. As a Libertarian newsperson in a largely conservative town with a (somehow) still liberal newspaper staff, its not fun.

            When you aren’t being openly disregarded for your views, you are being quizzed as if you were in a zoo.

        2. Maybe if they hadn’t been printing lies…

          The lies won’t end with the demise of newsprint. Cable TV and internet “journalism” is chock-full of lies and liars.

    2. “Right now, I’m careening through a cosmic vapor of uncertainty.”

      Dude, if one single person at my local rag would stop fellating every Democrat and union hack in sight, long enough to write one sentence like this a day, I would still be a subscriber.

      1. Dude. “Blazing Saddles.” … I claim nothing with that one. Other than I’m fucking cool enough to love “Blazing Saddles.”

        1. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, but not enough, I guess, because I certainly don’t remember that line. I probably shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Mel Brooks to be a syndicated columnist. Bummer.

    3. I use an ad-blocker because I was disgusted with the obnoxious ads on newspaper sites. I can turn the blocker off for selected sites, and I do for sites that use non-aggressive tactics. Sadly, newspapers still don’t understand that irritation kills circulation AND page views.

  20. The news needs of this country’s citizenry do not include four hundred daily newspapers all republishing the same international and national stories, whether in print or online. A relative handful of news organizations could easily fill the whole demand for daily national & international hard news, and will.

    Similarly, blogs, television, and talk radio are perfectly capable of completely filling the “analysis” and “opinion” demands of the country.

    The advertising needs of this country’s citizenry does not include classified ads sections in four hundred daily subscription newspapers, either. Craigslist eats a tremendous amount of that space, as does (in other ways) eBay. What’s left is maybe enough to sustain a free weekly.

    So, here’s some advice to the newspapers: stop doing those things.

    What do you have left? You have state/local news, you have crosswords/sudoku/puzzles, you have obituaries, you have legal notices, and you have coupons/brick & mortar ads. That’s all the local paper has that I can’t find better elsewhere on the web. Those are your core competencies. Do them and only them, and find out if they’re a business model.

    Maybe they aren’t. But the other stuff doesn’t add any value, so toss it. I don’t care if Berlin gets a goddamned nuclear bomb dropped on it, you don’t mention it?because it’s not in your purview anymore. You’re a local. Think local.

  21. I still like to read a newspaper but not in this country. I enjoy reading a story and not outdated info that has already been all over the web news sites.

  22. They’re not even good for fish and chips anymore.

  23. While I agree that local papers probably have more of a future than the big-name dailies, it would still be all right if they mentioned it, should Berlin get nuked. Just saying.

    1. In two years, if Berlin gets nuked, you’ll have heard about it 12 times from 10 different sources before you ever get your newspaper.

      And the facts will have drastically changed from the time the paper went to bed.

      Local news doesn’t change that fast, so its safer, but World news is just too disseminated and fast to cover by a newspaper anymore.

      And I’m a former newspaperperson.

      1. Heck, even the speed doesn’t particularly affect things. If my local paper has turned itself into a 24-7 news website, I’m still not likely to hit that site for international coverage.

        What can a news organization based in El Paso, for example, tell me about Berlin being nuked that I couldn’t find out by hitting the websites of the BBC, CNN, the Washington Post, or any of others of dozens of non-local sources with better international sources and contacts?

        Well, in El Paso, for example, stories about the local military bases’ going on alert. The emergency tightening up of the border patrol. The impact on the relatively large number of German soldiers who are in the area for training. Stuff like that?local stories that occurred as a result of Berlin being bombed, not stories about the Berlin bombing.

  24. Newspapers can’t survive if they don’t change, and they can’t survive if they change. There’s nothing ahead but defeat

    Nope. All they have to do is survive until the State starts subsidizing whatever’s left at that point, newspapers being essential to democracy, etc. etc. Those subsidies will keep the industry alive well past the time that we’ve all uploaded our minds into bush robots.

  25. What’s funny is that if you go over their financial statements, newspapers could still make money if you kept the masthead, cancelled all the staff contracts and renegotiated them, and nuked the retirees.

    In other words, if you just went through a REAL bankruptcy.

    The newspapers that are closing don’t make any sense to me. They must have had obstacles to bankruptcy of one kind or another [maybe related to their ownership by chains, which would rather close the asset down than find a way to maneuver it into bankruptcy? I don’t know]. I’m always shocked that even in the modern era a major daily masthead is allowed to go down. Nobody nowhere could make some money off of just the masthead? It doesn’t make sense.

  26. I like grabbing a paper now and then. Maybe that will become a niche market.

  27. Oh wow, does anyone still actually read newspapers? I mean really.


  28. I recall reading the paper (Boston Globe, Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch) for at least a half an hour on weekdays, at least an hour on Sundays, because it was good – informative, decently written, etc.

    Now, aside from the fact that I can get mo betta info on the web, I just don’t think newspapers are nearly as informative or competently written. Is it just me?

    1. I’m riding my newspaper all the way to the ground, like Slim Pickens on an H-Bomb. Yahoooooo!
      (Then I’m seeking the Libertarian nomination for governor in 2020. I loves me some lost causes!)

      1. My wife still gets the Dispatch delivered. No idea why, I’ve never seen her read it. Coupons, maybe.

        1. I know why

          1. anonymous still thinks we have milkmen.

            1. I thought I was the only one that delivered.

    2. It’s not just you.

      My nephew works for a newspaper and he says he can’t recognize the articles with his byline because the editor dumbs the writing down so much.

      Far too much appeal to the lowest common denominator, who are low they stopped buying the newspaper decades ago. Newspapers seemingly have no idea what the potential paying public wants.

      If they replaced the 10 needless lifestyle reports every day and replaced them with 2 actual news reporting instead, I might be tempted to read a newspaper again. 90% of the content in most newspapers is reprints of press releases and silly lifestyle junk; the reporting in the other 10% is so useless you wonder if the reporter is actually paying attention to the story he’s covering.

      Knowing what gets submitted versus what gets published, I can only conclude that newspapers hate their customers and their employees.

      1. Seems to me that there are a lot more syndicated articles, these days. Kinda defeats the point of me reading a local paper when they do that.

  29. And there’s money yet to be milked from newspapers. The big media corporations aren’t nimble enough to do the job well, however.

  30. So Tim,
    Why do you hate newspapers so much? Personally, I can’t muster up much of any emotion towards them.

  31. They can take my paper from my cold dead hands, and i am only 32. I subscribe to the local paper all 7 days a week. it is a ritual with me to read the paper and drink a few cups of coffee in the Am before heading off to work. I LOVE reading the papaer, and any print generally. Keep killing trees! yes i read news and lit online, but it is a poor substitute for an actuall paper or book in hand!

  32. I think a lot of local papers should consider switching from subscription-only daily to free weekly. The free weeklies in my area are doing MUCH better — both in terms of ad revenue and numbers of readers — than the subscription dailies. The weeklies are the sort you pick up to read while waiting for dinner at a restaurant, or the start of a film at some pretentious artsy theater, and the number of local people interested in reading what amounts to a free impulse purchase is MUCH larger than the number of people willing to pay money to commit to a regular subscription.

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