For newspapers to survive there needs to be more of them, not less. That’s called living in a new media world.
April 23, 2009 § Leave a comment
Jason Klein, CEO of the Newspaper National Network, was in Ad Age yesterday with a thoughtful piece about the torments of the newspaper business today. Jason has a great vantage point from which to comment, given the NNN’s close working relationship with virtually every newspaper in the country.
I agree with almost all of his points – including, most importantly, the enduring value and ability of newspapers to survive as print properties. But, I don’t agree that the path to survival is fewer newspapers, and/or that the economics of the business favors one large newspaper per city.
To the contrary, the economics of the media business today favors the small. The Internet is only the most recent and obvious example of how the business of producing and distributing content has fundamentally been fragmenting into smaller and smaller units for decades, beginning with Cable TV. Nevermind how fragmentation has perplexed advertisers and media buyers. They will catch-up on their own to the new, narrower nature of things. The business of providing content that audiences find valuable, and for which they may even be willing to pay, favors the discreet. It favors the targeted.
Accordingly, the economics of newspapers going forward favor a return to multi-paper cities. Not one newspaper per city, but more-than-one, smaller newspaper per city probably divided along unique demographic, social or political interests. One-section newspapers, easily distributed, with carrying costs subsidized largely by subscriptions.
There may be a place for the consolidation of distribution and content at a national or broadcast kind of level, but it will be a battle to perpetuate: Ask any company trying to sustain those sort of franchises today, such as Yahoo! or even the New York Times.
Again, we should pay careful attention to the plight of newspapers (and traditional media, generally) lest history repeat itself in too short a time. As Jason Klein says, the bell is tolling for newspapers. But, it tolls for all of us.