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Newspapers as we know it will be gone within 10 years

Back in July I interviewed the management of most of the major syndicates regarding how they viewed their future in an industry that many think is in decline. For the most part, they were very upbeat, positive and even bullish on the newspaper industry. They probably could have sensed from my line of questioning, that I entered into the interview with a certain gloomy bias.

But along comes an article that once again validates the doom that nearly encapsulates my view of the newspaper industry. For anyone whose work/income is tied to the newspaper industry, this would be an important piece to read. It’s author, Paul Gillin, maintains that the metro paper as we know it will be gone within a decade.

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.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
December/13/2006
@ 7:22 am

I do know that for the past few years, there has been an increase in free daily newspapers. They typically come out only on weekdays (Mon to Fri) although some has weekend editions that comes out on Friday or Saturday.

There are less than 50 of those in US right now, but I think they’ll become more and more common every year.

Handful of them run comics. I know The City Paper in Nashville was one of the dozen newspapers that ran “Franklin Fibbs.”

#2 josh
December/13/2006
@ 10:11 am

The article has some glaring holes. How much longer can sites rely on an “army of individual enthusiasts and bloggers who find interesting information on the Web and feed it to the site operators” without said enthusiasts demanding some share of the money?
And the idea that a story can be published on a mainstream news outlet without having been fact-checked (or, heck, even grammar-checked)? People just won’t visit that site. There’s a difference in expectation between visiting a blog, where some political junkie opines every morning, and reading the daily paper.
On a more personal level, I love seeing comics in print. I have my comics online, as well, but there’s something validating about someone other than me saying my comic is worth printing. I don’t get that feeling online.

#3 Rich
December/13/2006
@ 1:06 pm

“They” declared an early demise to am radio too. The “as we know it” part may be the key. Just as am radio is now almost all sports and talk, something will keep newspapers afloat – although probably a vastly different format.

Personally I think newspapers have undervalued the contribution cartoons make to their sales. As they cut space or keep “historic” or “classic” strips (at the expense of adding new strips anyway), I think they shoot themselves in the foot.

The other thing I believe they can do (and some are doing) is try to provide more balanced coverage of the issues. I’d love to see an editorial page split between prevailing liberal and conservative takes on the issues, including opposing editorial cartoons. But that’s just me!

#4 Mike Lester
December/13/2006
@ 1:21 pm

Mark Cuban interviewd in Esquire:

If I had more time? I’d get into places where people are so afraid right now that the economics dominate the common sense. I’d get into a business like newspapersâ??local newspapers. Newspapers are a perfect example of how economics dominate common sense. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers aren’t dying. Newspapers are making tons of money; they just aren’t keeping their shareholders happy, they aren’t meeting the expectations on Wall Street. The problem with newspapers is that they’re trying to grow like they’re Internet companies in 1999. Their shareholders are bitching at them about not showing growth in share prices. The minute you have to run your business for share prices, you’ve lost. It’s over. They’ve focused on that and so they’ve lost. What they should do is step back and ask, “What makes us special?”

ML

#5 Rob Tornoe
December/13/2006
@ 2:27 pm

Great quote! I know at Gannett, they seek something like a 24% return on investment. It’s ridiculous! How much profit do you need to have to sustain a business?

I think Cuban is exactly right, and I thank my esteemed colleague from The Rome News-Tribune for posting it.

#6 mooncity
December/13/2006
@ 3:11 pm

I imagine the newspaper will be gone not so much in ten years, but more on the order of twenty years from now. I think that’s inevitable. It isn’t that bloggers will take over writing the news so much as the newspapers will go digital. The writing is on the wall there. There are high school and college aged kids out there today have never picked up a newspaper in their whole lives, but go to the ‘net for info. And the cost savings in paper, printing, transport, and labor all point to a digital future for the newspaper. Once the older readers (who make up the majority of newspaper readers) pass on, newspapers will seek out the digital audience in force. Then the newspaper as we know it will be gone, replaced perhaps by weeklies and advertising-heavy circulars. It’s going to happen, but it’s really sad to think of. Printed words (and comics!), in a newspaper just have something about them I think we as a culture will regret losing.

#7 Alan Gardner
December/13/2006
@ 8:04 pm

The big distinction here is that PRINT newspapers are going away – or, like mooncity mentioned, become smaller alternative/niche publications. The business model on which they are currently operating can not be sustained beyond a decade. To survive they will have to invest more heavily in their web offerings.

As far as bloggers v. newspapers – it’s going to be a symbiotic ecosystem. Bloggers need mass media to generate the news upon which the bloggers feast and bloggers will generate news as well the the media will pick up on and pursue and write about in much greater depth than a blog can.

#8 Jeff
December/13/2006
@ 8:08 pm

>

I agree, today’s newspapers have undervalued the contribution comics make to their sales, unlike the newspapers from the first half of the 20th Century. However, I think part of the problem is that they cut â??historicâ? or â??classicâ? strips rather than keeping them. Many â??historicâ? or â??classicâ? strips went through a period of several years when syndicates saw that people wanted some of them to continue, yet they turned them over to inferior or pedestrian writers and artists because they worked cheap. The recent trend is to bring in better writers and artists, but for some of the strips it could very well be too late. In other words, syndicates themselves are more to blame for the demise of may â??historicâ? or â??classicâ? strips rather than the demise of the writer or artist. (Of course that, and newspapers’ shrinking of their size.)

Why isn’t anyone out there suggesting over in the comic book world that Superman, Batman, et al., should have died with their creators? Then why should it be that way in the comic strip world for strips that are still popular?

>

Comic strips are one of the few things that were created especially for newspapers. They have been one of the things that make newspapers special. But for many years most newspapers have abused them, most especially by beginning the cycle of printing them smaller, so that writers write fewer words for them and artists draw less and simpler art, so that newspapers figure they can print them smaller, so that writers write fewer words for them and artists draw less and simpler art, so that newspapers figure they can print them smaller, and so on ad infinitum.

Additionally, it’s been the corporate mentality that has created a standardized ROI across a chain, and that’s caused newspapers to aim for shares. Similar thing’s happened in radio. And the public has turned away from both.

#9 Rich
December/14/2006
@ 11:59 am

Jeff raised some great points, some that I was unaware of (like the inner workings at the syndicates)! In the issue of Comic Books v. comic strips, I think there’s an explanation for that. Comic books go in and out of being well written, but the genre is different in many ways … just off the top – few expect consistency (you expect writers and artists to come and go), readership turns over more quickly (vs. comics where you may read the same comic all you life, few follow their comic books that way), strips are much more intimate with the cartoonist (shorter delivery, less chance to cover up flaws in art or story by making some other aspect better), etc. Some comic books do die with the originator, but not many.

By historic or classic strips, I was trying to think of a nice way to say reprints by dead (or retired) cartoonists … not really the ones currently being done by new cartoonists and writers.

When I was in Chicago in the early 80s, they tried to keep Nancy afloat by brining in a new cartoonist (Scott I think) and he did a good job breathing new life into it, but I’m not sure how long it lasted after that. I think the opportunity to work on “classic” strips would be a good way to break into the business by upcoming cartoonists and writers. I have no problem with a syndicate trying to keep a strip going, but I agree, they should keep the quality up.

IMHO – newspapers will be here in 20 years. Just think the “as we know it” part will be the question mark. I’m not sure if newspapers have sold out to the stockholders as much as they had sold out the readers by being boring and one-sided. About the only thing I read is the comics, an occasional headline, local interest stories, editorial or upcoming events.

My 2¢ anyway! Good discussion!!!

#10 Jonathan
December/14/2006
@ 6:49 pm

I don’t know…books were supposed to be history, we were supposed to be living in a paperless universe by now…things may change as far as format, but I believe newspapers will survive as long as they remain a cheap and low tech way to reach an audience.

#11 Kathy Paxton
October/10/2007
@ 2:13 pm

I was a manager for years in the newspaper industry and got out of the business to persue other interests. My people were unwilling to let me sit around and get paid for doing absolutly nothing all day. Your all Fools, bet you miss me now HA HA

#12 Prediction: Newspapers will be gone in 5 years The Daily Cartoonist
December/15/2011
@ 9:01 am

[…] 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 […]

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