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Prediction: Newspapers will be gone in 5 years

The Center for the Digital Future (part of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism) has released a study about the impact of the internet on Americans. They study touches on issues of privacy, social media, PC vs tablet computing among other issues. One prediction made is that most US newspapers will be gone in five years.

“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium ? the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It?s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”The impending death of the American print newspaper continues to raise many questions,? Cole said. ?Will media organizations survive and thrive when they move exclusively to online availability? How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?

With that prediction on the record, lets look at other predictions that have been made in the past and see how accurate they’ve been.Dilbert creator Scott Adams, back in 2007 predicted the end in two mobile phone upgrades (about four years).

I predict that the end of printed newspapers will happen in the time it takes for most people to upgrade their cell phones two more times. The iPhone, and its inevitable copycats, (let?s call them iClones) are newspaper killers. When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant. Eventually, all cell phones will have Internet browsing built in. You might not have a web browser on your next cell phone, but the one after that will have it as a standard feature.Most people prefer to read a printed page versus a computer screen. A cell phone screen is the worst of all. But newspapers will collapse as a business long before 100% of iPhone and iClone owners give up their printed newspaper subscriptions. I don?t know if it will take 20% of iPhone/iClone owners to cancel their subscriptions, or if it will take 60%, but whatever the number, it seems likely we will reach it. Then the printed newspaper will disappear.

Safe to say, we can put that one in the fail column, but note the “why.” It becomes a trend in a lot of these predictions.

Paul Gillin predicted back in 2006 that the end was within 10 years:

So here’s where the spiral begins. Newspapers’ profitable classified advertising business will be all but gone in 10 years, a victim of the vastly superior results and economics of search-driven online advertising. Display advertising will be under intense pressure from alternative media, including not just Web sites but an emerging class of small print publications and supermarket advertisers that serve local audiences (print publishing is getting cheaper, too). The department stores and cell phone companies that sustain newspapers’ display advertising business will apply intense pressure on papers to bring down their prices. Newspapers will be forced to lay off staff in order to maintain margins. Cuts in services will lead to cuts in editorial coverage, making papers less relevant to subscribers. As circulation declines, advertising rates will have to come down to remain competitive. This will put more pressure on margins, leading to more layoffs, more cost cuts, more circulation declines and more pressure on margins. Once this spiral begins, it will accelerate with breathtaking speed. And it has already begun.

So far he’s been pretty accurate. We saw the mass layoff stage during 2008-2009. He’s got another 4 years before we can put this down in the true or false column.

Here’s another interesting prediction by the Future Exploration Network that also puts the end within a 5 year time frame.

?In the developed world newspapers are in the process of becoming extinct, driven by rapidly changing use of media and revenues out of line with cost structures,? said Dawson in the news release. ?These pressures will be compounded by the rise of tablet devices and the coming availability of low-cost digital paper with exceptional qualities.?

According to the study, the US newspaper is out of business by 2017 and pretty much in most nations by 2040. Here’s their timeline graphic.

As I read these predictions, I don’t think anyone is suggesting a wholesale end of the newspaper business. Small papers or specialized papers will probably survive, but most city papers will be replaced by digital versions.

Community Comments

#1 Norm Feuti
December/15/2011
@ 9:39 am

If you make this prediction every few years, you’ll eventually be right.

#2 Paul Fell
December/15/2011
@ 11:03 am

The question remains… Will newspapers become extinct due to some of the Darwinian theories noted in the article, or will they disappear because they all committed suicide? They (by their own stupidity) become less relevant each day.

#3 Steve Skelton
December/15/2011
@ 11:29 am

I can see all of my local newspapers online for free…….If they allow free viewing of their online sites, then the only revenue they will end up with in the end is the revenue from online ads.

#4 Kat Ruhl
December/15/2011
@ 1:07 pm

I still occasionally find the local newspaper to be interesting but the larger papers with their articles about things happening in the world and the country at large are fairly irrelevant as they are often a few days behind everything else at the very least. If newspapers want to survive they must change their way of thinking and give people a reason to read them instead of just recycling what we’re already privy to

#5 donna lewis
December/15/2011
@ 1:11 pm

I’m quoting Norm Feuti the rest of the year.

#6 Daniel Boris
December/15/2011
@ 1:26 pm

I predict people that predict things will be gone in 5 years.

#7 Scott Lincoln
December/15/2011
@ 1:29 pm

I predict all predictions will come to an end in 2012…

#8 Clay Jones
December/15/2011
@ 1:31 pm

And this prediction is coming from a source called The DIGITAL Future.
That’s about as non-biased as the cows saying “eat mor chiken.”

#9 Mike Peterson
December/15/2011
@ 1:38 pm

I’m with Clay. Never ask a barber if it’s time to get a haircut, and never ask a digital center if they think newspapers will be around much longer.

OTOH, I was never able to get a straight answer from a publisher on this one: When the big papers go away, will anyone bother making newsprint for the little (and still otherwise viable) papers?

That was the point at which they’d put a paper sack over their heads and we’d all have to stand in the tea chest and sing “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” to bring them back again.

#10 Pedro Molina
December/15/2011
@ 1:51 pm

I’m with Norm and Clay, anyway, Newspapers need to work on what makes them unique, investigative and in deep report, local news, artwork, reliability of the brand… if they are going to be read in paper or in a tablet, that’s another thing…

#11 donna lewis
December/15/2011
@ 1:59 pm

I’m with the band.

And with Pedro, who’s with Norm and Clay (who I was already with) (or is it ‘with whom I was already?’)….

#12 David Jones
December/15/2011
@ 2:14 pm

I think Newspapers need to rebuild themselves… and I think they will once they realize they can offer “print only” specials and content that will drive readership.

Next step is Page 3 girls like in England. Bwa ha ha…. Okay, that won’t happen….

Dave.

#13 Mike Lester
December/15/2011
@ 2:20 pm

Donna Lewis: cartoonist groupie. Two words I never thought I’d see together. Is there anything more pathetic?

One thing comes to mind: the millionth re-hash of this topic. Substitute ANYTHING for “newspapers” and sooner or later it’ll come true. Otherwise we’d all be watching The Honeymooners. Wait a minute -EVERYTHING IS THE HONEYMOONERS!

#14 donna lewis
December/15/2011
@ 2:25 pm

BTW, Mike Lester….I heard southern accents will become extinct.

Cartoonist Groupies Unite

#15 Darryl Heine
December/15/2011
@ 2:41 pm

By 2017, no more newspapers, even for fans of comic strips Garfield and Blondie?

#16 RYAN BROWN
December/15/2011
@ 3:23 pm

I read somewhere from a very established syndicated cartoonist that he doesn’t think the newspaper industry will die as fast as “experts” think.

Reading the local news online is ok, but there’s still nothing like the traditional feel of holding a newspaper myself and reading it. That way my eyes are not limited to the boundaries of a computer screen.

#17 Mike Peterson
December/16/2011
@ 5:07 am

Wait a minute — you don’t have groupies, Mike?

What are you doing this for, then? The money?????

#18 Milt Priggee
December/16/2011
@ 8:53 am

I guess it all depends on your definition of what a newspaper is…

#19 Shawn Labadie
December/16/2011
@ 10:07 am

I don’t think anyone can predict the death of newspapers for sure. Will the newspaper industry exist in the next 5-10 years in the way it has for the last 100? I think it’s obvious that it will not. What we don’t know is will someone come along and re-invent the industry in a way no one thought of and make it viable again. That is always possible. Steve Jobs brought Apple from the brink in a time when everyone thought it was doomed by killing the music industry…poetic isn’t it?

The important thing is, how will it affect cartoonists? Especially aspiring cartoonists? As of right now the only successful business model for cartoonists has been the newspaper industry. Without newspapers and the syndicates, cartoonist still don’t have a reliable and consistently profitable vehicle to sell their wares to. So if the newspaper industry dies so do most comic strip artists income and therefore our industry. (I apologize for pointing out the obvious) There are a lot of success stories on the internet, but if we are to be honest, these are the exception and not the rule right now.

One last thing we have to be wary of is, do people even want to read comic strips anymore? Lets face it, the medium was born of the newspaper and may well just die with it. With all this new technology allowing for content with motion graphics and video, is the simple 3-4 panel gag even relevant anymore? My kids still love to grab the sunday comics and read them they even fight over it, so I’d like to believe that the comic strip is timeless and what drew people in before the internet smart phones and tablets is still interesting to people, but in the end who really knows?

#20 Jeph Jacques
December/16/2011
@ 11:10 am

Something like half a million people read my strip online every day. So yes, I’d say that people are still interested in reading comic strips.

And syndication is simply NOT the only successful business model. I’m not trying to open the “web vs. print” can of worms here (both have their advantages and disadvantages), but I’ve made my living off of a web comic for 7.5 years now. It’s the sole income in my household, and I’m not poor. I can think of several dozen, possibly a hundred, colleagues making their living in a similar way. That’s a significant number of people, especially when you compare it to the number of syndicated cartoonists making a living off of their work.

The ultimate fate of newspapers is a moot point when it comes to comics. They’ve already moved on. You’re debating the viability of space flight while we’re living on our moon bases.

#21 Kyle Bowers
December/16/2011
@ 11:21 am

^ seconded.

#22 Justin K
December/16/2011
@ 11:26 am

And here comes a flood of responses about webcomics as Jeph’s Twitter followers show up…

#23 Robert Shillings
December/16/2011
@ 11:41 am

Toasting, bread, et cetera.

#24 Jeph Jacques
December/16/2011
@ 11:51 am

I sell a t-shirt about that. It’s very popular.

#25 Patrick
December/16/2011
@ 2:47 pm

Radio didn’t die after TV, DVDs didn’t kill movie theaters. Newspapers won’t die they will adapt. It’s their dominant influence that will go extinct

#26 Stephen Beals
December/16/2011
@ 3:35 pm

Comics haven’t “moved on” so much as spread out. And it’s been great all around.

What I’m wondering is what newspapers will call themselves if they’re completely digital. Given that “carriageway” is still used to describe a road, I think we can still call it a newspaper.

#27 John Hover
December/17/2011
@ 9:56 am

sometimes people just want the newspaper for the funny pages. there needs to be more opportunities for comic only papers or insert papers like Bill Kellogs, with ink bottle syndicate. its obvious that people still love comics. I predict as long as we have comics in the newpaper form people will read them. now thats one heck of a prediction…lol.

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