The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) released an upbeat report on the state of newspapers worldwide, pointing to growing readership levels in emerging economies but cautioning that engagement levels are still low.

The report includes data from 70 countries that account for more than 90% of the industry’s value. It shows:

  • More than half the world’s adult population reads a daily newspaper, with 2.5 billion reading in print and more than 600 million consuming in digital form.
  • The newspaper industry generates more than US$200 billion of revenue worldwide each year. However, that figure is down 2% from last year and 22% since 2008. The numbers are dragged down by plummeting ad sales in the U.S., which has seen print advertising revenues fall 42% since 2008. The good news is that ad revenues are up 9.1% in Latin America, 3.6% in Asia and 2.3% in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Newspaper circulation remains high, through stagnant, globally. Circulation declined only .9% worldwide in 2012 from a year earlier, primarily due to  rising circulations in Asia. Circulation is down 2.2% globally since 2008, with the steepest declines in Europe.
  • While newspapers are a vital information source, they aren’t engaging online audiences very effectively. Newspapers accounted for only 7% of visits, only 1.3% of time spent online and only .9% of total pages visited.
  • U.S. newspaper publishers now generate 27% of their revenues from non-traditional sources, such as digital advertising, services and ancillary products.

While the report can be seen as a glass-half-full scenario, we think it’s encouraging to see publishers diversifying their revenue sources. The industry’s historic dependence on print advertising in general – and classified advertising in particular – is at the root of its problems. The rapid decline of those revenue sources is prompting some publishers to get creative about finding new revenues. Those that succeed will be stronger for it.

 

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By paulgillin | April 13, 2013 - 10:31 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Newspapers, Paywalls, Revenue20, Solutions

In a dying industry, the sensible thing to do is to maximize your revenues before you die. Paywalls might well make money for newspapers. But that doesn’t mean that newspapers aren’t dying. Quite the opposite.

Felix Salmon, Reuters

That quote, which we first saw in this Mathew Ingram piece on paidContent, gave us new insight on why we dislike paywalls so much. Yes, the newspaper industry seems to be adopting them at a rapid pace, and yes, the paywalls at The New York Times and Financial Times are reportedly successful, but there’s something about putting the subscription genie back in the bottle that strikes us as a step backward.

Salmon puts his finger on one of the weaknesses of most current paywalls: They are defensive strategy. They’re designed to keep loyal readers on board, but they repel potential new readers.

Alan Mutter shares worrisome statistics: More than two-thirds of regular newspaper readers are over 45, their average age is 57 and the average age of the online newspaper audience grows one year older every year. This industry is still headed toward a cliff. Unless those demographics turn around, it’s only a matter of time before the audience dwindles to a size that is no longer economically sustainable.

What’s the answer? Unfortunately, no one has come up with one. In another piece this week, Ingram criticizes paywalls for being a no-growth strategy. His article is mostly a restatement of Mutter’s analysis, but the really interesting part is in the comments section that follows. Both critics and supporters of paywalls vigorously debate the alternatives, and both sides make good points. Done right, it seems that paywalls actually could attract new subscribers, but no publisher is reporting the kind of circulation gains that will be needed to replace this rapidly aging audience.

The time seems right for micro payments, but that idea has never gained any traction. Kachingle was one of the early players in newspaper micro payments, but it has now morphed its business model into a co-marketing app content somethingorother that we can’t figure out. People seem to be OK with using Google Checkout for 99-cent purchases, but not for five-cent purchases. We think there’s a psychological barrier to micro payments. Below 99 cents, people don’t want to be bothered to think about paying. In fact, charging a nickel to read a 5,000-word article seems a little absurd, as if the article has no value. At some point, micro payments work against you.

Reuters’ Salmon argues that paywalls as currently implemented are too inflexible. They impose a limited number of subscription options on visitors regardless of what the visitors want or how they behave. Paywalls should use a sliding scale that maps to the needs of the individual reader, he suggests. People with an intense interest in sports will pay more than those who care deeply about entertainment, so they should pay a different price. Few publishers understand their audiences in that kind of depth, though.

We did see one bit of encouraging news this week. The Newspaper Association of America reported that advertising revenues continued their seven-year-long string of declines, dropping 6% in 2012. However, overall revenues were down only 2%. The reason is that publishers are finally diversifying their revenue streams, and not just by charging readers:

These new revenue sources, which include such items as digital consulting for local business and e-commerce transactions, now account for close to one-in-ten dollars coming into newspaper media companies. They are significant enough in scale that NAA has begun to collect detailed data about these revenue categories and track their trajectory year-to-year for the first time.

Consulting? Affinity programs? Marketing Services? Where have we heard those ideas before?

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The Pew Research Center’s annual State of the Media Report paints a dismal picture of the condition of mainstream media – in particular broadcast and magazines – but Slate’s . Which side are you on?

There’s no question that Pew’s annual media audit and survey of 2,000 consumers is about as depressing as any of the 10 annual reports that the nonprofit media watchdog has completed. Among the lowlights:

  • Nearly a third of U.S. adults have stopped using a news outlet because it no longer met their needs.
  • That’s not surprising when you consider that low-cost sports, weather and traffic information now account for 40% of the content produced on the average local newscast.
  • The population of full-time professional newsroom employees fell below 40,000 for the first time since 1978. It’s down nearly 30% from its 1989 high.
  • In an election year, the declines in coverage were particularly evident. Live broadcast reports fell from from 33% of the news hole in 2007 to 23% in 2012. And 2007 was not an election year. Commentary and opinion, which are cheap to produce, now make up 63% of  news airtime on cable channels, while straight news reporting comprises only 37%.
  • An examination of 48 recent evening and morning newscasts found that 20 led with a weather-related story. Weather coverage is cheap.
  • Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists, while twice that many came from political partisans. The report runs down a list of informational websites that political parties and advocacy groups have set up to influence media, but some are now actually becoming the media. Pew notes several examples of major news magazines that have carried partisan reports as part of their branded news stream.
  • In that vein, Pew notes a 2008 analysis of Census Bureau data by Robert McChesney and John Nichols that found that the ratio of public relations workers to journalists tripled from 1.2-to-1 in 1980 to 3.6-to-1 in 2008. That gap has likely grown since then.
  • In summary, “News organizations are less equipped to question what is coming to them or to uncover the stories themselves, and interest groups are better equipped and have more technological tools than ever,” Pew states.
  • Incredibly (to us, at least), the public is mostly unaware that the news media is struggling. Only 39% of the 2,000 consumers surveyed said they have much awareness of the industry’s problems.

Mainstream media percentage change in ad revenue 2011-2012

Newspapers actually come off pretty well in this year’s report. Thanks to paywalls, which are in place or in the works at one-third of U.S. newspapers, circulation held steady year-to-year. The New York Times said its circulation revenue now exceeds advertising revenue for the first time.

Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students...

Warren Buffett (source: Wikipedia)

However, the long-term trends are still negative. Newspapers lose $16 in print ad revenue for every $1 in digital ad revenue gained, and that figure is up from $10-to-$1 in 2011. Equally ominous is that Facebook and Google are doing a better job of figuring out how to target digital advertising locally, which threatens one of the few pockets of revenue strength newspapers have left.

Because the long-term outlook is so bad, newspapers have become an attractive investment vehicle. Pew notes that value investor Warren Buffett has been snapping them up at a rapid clip because they are so cheap. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News were bought for $55 million last year, which is 1/10 of the price they commanded in 2006.

Out of Mind

Perhaps the most surprising finding is the low public awareness of the news industry’s crisis, and that’s where Yglesias’ analysis on Slate is most interesting. “American news media has never been in better shape,” he states at the outset, using the Cypriot economic crisis as proof. We’re not sure the media itself is in great shape, but readers are doing fine.

Yglesias cites a “bounty” of online resources that provide context, analysis and even an interactive calculator that lets visitors try out different ideas for solving the island nation’s financial problems. It’s easier than ever to produce news using public sources and simple publishing tools, and the Internet makes boundless background information available in seconds.

Assessing the state of media by looking only at the health of traditional outlets creates “a blinkered outlook that confuses the interests of producers with those of consumers,” he writes. “[T]oday’s readers have access to far more high-quality coverage than they have time to read.”

The finding that only four in 10 Americans are even aware of the media’s struggles can be interpreted in several ways. The pessimistic view is that Americans are basically dumb, lazy and happy with the partisan screaming matches that characterize a lot of broadcast news.

A more positive view is that Americans have already moved on to using other sources and haven’t noticed the loss of their once-trusted brands. It’s impossible to know without further research, but we have to acknowledge Yglesias’s point that the decline of mainstream media certainly hasn’t resulted in a dearth of information.

No Expiration

One important point the Slate business writer makes is that news no longer carries an expiration date. Traditional media assumed that news would be consumed within a few hours or days. Archival or background information was tedious to find, so readers were mainly limited to whatever the newspaper or broadcast provided within its limited space.

Now everything is part of a grand, searchable archive, which permits people to go as deep as they want whenever they want. Those who don’t have the time to come up to speed on the banking crisis in Cyprus can put off learning about it until later. Then they can go to a resource like Wikipedia’s coverage and spend hours digging into background for more than 40 sources cited there.

We prefer the glass-half-full perspective. While the loss of the media’s watchdog function is troubling, the power of having timeless access to resources we didn’t even know existed is energizing. The challenge is to find ways to fund the valuable services that media has provided in the past so that the information that doesn’t attract search engines and sponsorship dollars still has a platform.

 

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Top areas of ad spending declines, 2013

Traditional media took it on the chin in marketing plans researched by Aquent and the American Marketing Association (AMA). One in three marketers plans to decrease spending on newspaper advertising, making newspapers the big loser in the study. They were joined in the cellar by consumer magazines, radio, trade magazines and television, all of which were cited by more than 20% of respondents as targets of budget cuts. The winners? Mobile media, social media and marketing automation. More than three in four marketers plan to increase spending in those areas.


Perhaps marketers are simply reflecting the interests of the audiences they want to reach. Alan Mutter gathers some statistics that point to ominous demographic trends:

  • Only 6% of people in their 20s and 16% of 40-year-olds regularly read newspapers, compared to 48% of people over 65.
  • Only 29% of the U.S. population regularly read a newspaper in 2012, down from 56% in 1991.
  • Three-quarters of the audience at the typical newspaper is 45 years of age or older. In comparison, over-45s comprise only 40% of the population.
  • Print advertising still generates between 80% and 90% of revenues at the typical major metro daily.

Mutter asserts that newspaper publishers will never pull out of their tailspin unless they can create products that appeal to the new generation of digital natives who can’t be bothered to drag around paper, CDs or books. For them, the phone and the tablet are their windows on the world, and that will change industries ranging from news to travel to banking.


Plans to increase or decrease Facebook time in 2013There are always ways to make statistics say what you want them to say, of course. More people read a newspaper than visited a social network in the past month, according to KPMG International. Traditional electronic channels fared even better: 88% of respondents to the survey said they’d watched TV in the previous month and 74% said they’d listened to the radio. That compares to just 57% who had tweeted or Facebooked. The survey measured habits of more than 9,000 people in nine countries. It did not ask how much time respondents spent with each media.

There’s some evidence that the novelty of Facebook is wearing off. A new Pew Research study finds that 28% of Facebook users say the site has become less important to them, and a third have cut back on the amount of time they spend on Facebook. Asked about their plans for allocating time to Facebook in the coming year, 38% of 18-to-29-year-olds said they’ll cut back, compared to only 1% who plan to spend more time.


And speaking of Pew, another recent study finds strong support for a bastion of the print world: libraries. More than half of Americans 16 or older visited a library during the past year, and of those who did, 26% plan to increase library usage during the next year while 22% plan to cut back. Asked if libraries should clear out some of their book stacks to make way for more technical resources, 36% said definitely not, compared to 20% who supported such a change. It would appear that while print may be on the decline, the role of the library as a community gathering place is still secure for now.

Miscellany

Writing in Scientific American blogs, Frank Swain tells of  a new initiative by the Royal Statistical Society’s BenchPress project to teach young journalists how to interpret statistics. The program sends volunteer working scientists into schools and newsrooms across Britain to help ensure that “journalists produce science news stories that are as robust and accurate as possible.” This seems like a great idea to us. Any yahoo with a SurveyMonkey account and a mailing list can field a survey these days, and publishing tools make the results look like they came from Gallup. Scientists complain of having to squeeze the conclusions of complex research studies into tweetable sound bites in order to get attention – and more funding. There’s so much bad research out there, and statistics isn’t a core part of the curriculum at many journalism schools. Maybe it should be.


The Washington Post has come up with a “Truth Teller” app that compares statements made by public officials and corporate spokespeople to databases of facts in near real time. The project, which was funded with a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund, is said to be able to extract audio, convert it to text and then conduct searches based upon the content. We’re somewhat skeptical, given that our Google Voice app still converts all our voice-mail messages to Martian, but maybe the Post found better technology.

The video below tells more, and stresses that this is a prototype. The technology is ultimately intended to be used behind the scenes to help reporters more quickly scope out falsehoods. We see huge potential for politics and mischief with this technology. Imagine a CNN vs. Fox “Leaderboard of Lies” or a plug-in that tweets falsehoods in real time. That we would follow.

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By paulgillin | January 17, 2013 - 9:22 am - Posted in Advertising, Business News, Demographics

People have debated for some time what is the average age of a daily newspaper reader in the U.S. Eric Alterman said it’s 55 in a 2008 piece in The New Yorker, and the consensus is in that range. Now Alan Mutter has run some Pew Research numbers and looks at the number another way.

According to Pew, less than 10% of people under the age of 30 reported that they had read a newspaper the previous day. In comparison, nearly 50% of adults over 65 had done so. Seventy-four percent of U.S. newspaper readership is concentrated in people over the age of 45, while that age demographic group represents only 39% of the population. And that group is getting older and dying while the under-45s are not.

What do all the numbers mean? “The industry is failing to replace older readers with younger individuals,” Mutter writes. “At some point, the newspaper audience may contract so severely that (a) publishers cannot attract enough advertisers, (b) publishers no longer enjoy the economies of scale necessary to print profitably or (c) both of the above.”

Few advertisers want to reach people over the age of 50, and almost no one wants to reach 65-year-olds. People in that age group often live on fixed incomes, have no children at home and very modest spending needs. They buy very little. Yet this is the core audience newspaper publishers have to sell to their advertisers.

A few years ago, Golin Harris CEO Fred Cook quoted an unidentified Chicago Sun-Times columnist as saying, “Newspapers aren’t dying; our readers are.” Whether a columnist actually said that or not, it’s an apt summary of the problem all mainstream media face. Watch the 6 p.m. network evening news some evening and look at the ads. They’re for pharmaceuticals, insurance and erectile dysfunction aids. Those advertisers know who the audience is. In 2010, the average age of a regular evening news consumer was 53, according to Pew. Where is that audience in 20 years? Where will the advertisers be?

The news industry’s challenge is to find products that appeal to young readers, but that requires taking risks, which is not something news executives are wired to do. The one saving grace could be that a lot of news organizations have laid off expensive senior staff and replaced them with young reporters. Perhaps those people will bring forth the ideas that enable the industry to grow again.

 

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The paradox continues. Newspaper readership continues to run at all-time highs as the business model crumbles. From a Newspaper Association of America press release issued today:

Newspapers improved upon their website traffic in the first quarter of 2012 with a 4.4 percent increase year-over-year in adult unique visitors (113 million) and a 10 percent increase in adult average daily visitors (25 million).

Further, newspapers achieved a more than 7 percent increase in unique visitors ages 21 to 34, with average daily visits by this age group up 17 percent and total visits rising by 15 percent, an analysis performed by the Newspaper Association of America with data provided by comScore reveals. Young audience engagement with newspaper websites also is demonstrated by a 10 percent increase in average daily visitors in the 18-to-24 age group.

Read more…

Bloomberg News is one of the few news operations that’s flourishing, and Knowledge@Wharton provides a glimpse of the editorial strategy that fuels its remarkable engine. Founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 1982, the financially oriented global information network today produces more than 5,000 stories per day from 146 news bureaus in 72 countries. Its TV network reaches 310 million people and it is in the middle of turning around BusinessWeek, which it bought from McGraw-Hill for $1 in 2009.Bloomberg's Matthew Winkler

Underlying the unique Bloomberg style is a 376-page style manual written by editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler (right). The most recent edition is the first that Bloomberg has made public (buy it on Amazon), and Wharton writes that it is a marvel of clarity and consistency. Some people might cringe at the manual’s many hard-and-fast guidelines, but consistency is a virtue when serving a time-pressed audience like equity traders. An excerpt:

Bloomberg stories should fulfill “The Five Fs” — that is, they must be First, Factual, Fastest, Final and take Future events into account. No story is complete if it doesn’t include “Five Easy Pieces” — information about the markets, the economy, government, politics and companies. The ideal lead is four paragraphs long and should always include a theme, a quotation, details and a nut paragraph that explains what is at stake. “Bloomberg News stories have a structure as immutable as the rules that govern sonnets and symphonies,” Winkler writes.

Whether you agree or not with Bloomberg’s style, there are tips in this article that could benefit any writer:

  • Prefer short words to long ones
  • Prefer specific terms to abstract one;
  • Write the headline first;
  • Avoid adverbs that are loaded with assertions, such as “lavishly” compensated or “stunningly” successful.

In many ways Bloomberg is the antithesis of The Wall Street Journal, which has long taken pride in the flourish it brings to its writing, and in particular its clever choice of adverbs. But we suppose both models can co-exist. The point is to have a distinctive style and stick to it.

The Knowledge@Wharton piece also explains Bloomberg’s controversial policy against the use of the word “but.” You’ll have to read to the end of the piece to understand that one, though.

Investors Pledge to Revive Philly Newspapers

There’s good news in Philadelphia, where a group of six investors has agreed to buy the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com from a investment firm that has owned the news operations for the past two years. The investors, led by South Jersey businessmen Lewis Katz and George E. Norcross III, say they’re excited about growing the franchise, are committed to retaining current management and will not interfere in editorial affairs.

The bad news is that the group paid only $55 million for the media properties. That’s a little more than one-tenth the price that Brian P. Tierney paid when he acquired the properties from McClatchy for $515 million in 2006. Outsell analyst Ken Doctor is quoted in the story saying that the 90% valuation decline isn’t unusual. Most newspapers have lost that much value over the past decade.

The investors are talking a good game, at least. Katz, who was an investigative journalist at one point, said they’re investing in the community as well as in the business. “Cynicism or no, we put a lot of our money in this,” he said. “There was [sic] a lot safer places at my age to put money than in a news organization. You know what? This is my way of coming home.”

Rethinking the Paywall

Although fewer than a quarter of the U.S.’s 1,350 newspapers have built paywalls, the number of publishers who are experimenting with metered access is rising. Bulldog Reporter says more than 300 papers have adopted paywalls so far and the industry is hoping that their early success could be the harbinger of a turnaround. Nearly 20,000 people have signed up to pay $1.99 a week for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the report says, and Gannett plans to expand paywalls from six test markets to all 80 of its small-market newspapers by the end of the year. That move, combined with circulation pricing increases, could add $100 million in annual profit, says the report, citing a company statement.

Writing on GigaOm, Mathew Ingram suggests another approach: Instead of putting up barriers to keep people from reading your content, how about building incentives to attract them instead? Ingram calls it the “velvet rope” strategy: Find creative ways to reward readers for getting involved with your product and they will respond by giving you money for special features and events. “Would you rather have a relationship with an outlet that is always asking you for money, or with one that sees you as a partner and gives you membership benefits that sometimes involve having you pay for things?” Ingram asks. It’s a good point, but Ingram’s post is a bit short on ideas about how to monetize this kumbaya. His argument seems to take it on faith that loyal readers will support a publisher they believe in. Unfortunately, there aren’t many examples of that approach working. Even NPR has to take government money to stay afloat.

Miscellany

News Media Heat MapForbes has posted a heat map showing the most influential news outlets in the country and where they’re influential. The map uses data provided by URL-shortening service bit.ly to overlay geographic data on information about content that is shared most often. Darker states signify places where content is shared more actively and presumably read more often. You can also drill down and see which stories generate the most activity. Not surprisingly, newspaper influence  tends to be localized while broadcast networks have national reach. The map at right shows where Fox News is most popular. Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered how bit.ly makes money, it’s by selling data just like this.


Last week we reported on the sudden shutdown of the Laurel (Miss.) Leader-Call. Thanks to comments from some alert readers, we’ve learned that Laurel won’t be newspaperless for long. Emmerich Newspapers says it will start a thrice-weekly newspaper to replace the Leader-Call and that the first edition will publish this Sunday. What’s more, Emmerich says it has hired the defunct newspaper’s entire staff and will probably throw in free donuts on Fridays. Emmerich publishes 25 community newspapers, primarily in Mississippi, and is very well-liked in Laurel these days.


We got an e-mail from a startup called Zypages that has an interesting twist on classified advertising. The service creates websites from flyers and product sheets uploaded by advertisers, using a cell phone number as the URL. “Most small contractors and service providers do not have web sites – but they all have mobile phones,” explained CEO Raymond Kasbarian in an e-mail. “Over 50% of the printed classified ads in our weekly newspapers out here list a phone but not a web site. By using the number listed in the classified add, a customer can get valuable information before calling.” Go to the website and click the “Examples” button to see how it works.

Tablet computers have been hailed as the salvation of the newspaper industry, but most publishers are squandering the opportunity, writes Newsosaur Alan Mutter in a searing sendup of newspaper tablet apps on Editor & Publisher.

“In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium,” Mutter writes, pointing to products from the San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer and even The New York Times as examples.

Many publishers are opting to use the native tablet browser to deliver content rather than customizing the experience for the device, and some are simply delivering PDF versions of their print products, Mutter says. This laziness is particularly alarming in light of the fact that people who consume information on tablets are among the most desirable prospects for paid circulation and advertising. The Newsosaur believes once they get a load of the visually rich and interactive offerings from magazine and broadcast competitors they’ll never come back to the digital broadsheets being offered by the dailies.

Although we own a tablet, we’ll admit we haven’t spent much time surveying the landscape of news apps. RSS feeds do the job just fine for us. However, if Mutter’s critique is on the mark, this is a head-slappingly stupid mistake on the part of publishers, who finally have a platform that at least some people are willing to pay for. Anyone who has worked in both print and digital media will tell you that the design and presentation skills that work in one format fail badly in the other. The worst mistake a print publisher can make is to put print designers in charge of online look and feel. It’s even worse on tablets, where apps offer a whole new level of interactivity. This is software, not ink on dead trees.

NYT Co. Takes Earnings Hit

New York Times Media Group revenue

Now the sobering news about The New York Times. Coming off a promising third quarter in which the company reported strong growth in subscriptions to its digital editions, parent New York Times Co. reported a $40 million loss in the fourth quarter on an 8% decline in print advertising. The paper’s paywall continues to thrive, and digital advertising revenue was up 5% in the quarter. However, the success online can’t make up for the continued free-fall in the much more profitable print advertising business.

The collapse of that revenue stream was dramatized by blogger Paul McMorrow, who came up with the chart at right. We can’t vouch for the accuracy of the numbers, but the choice of scale demonstrates clearly the industry’s dilemma. Digital revenue is nowhere close to making up for the decline in print.

The Times Co. was also hurt by a dramatic drop in the performance of About.com, the online encyclopedia/how-to engine it acquired for $410 million 2005. About.com was victimized by recent changes to Google’s search algorithms that penalized so-called “content farms” like Demand Media, which pay freelancers pennies to produce crap in the name of driving search traffic. About.com used to top Google search results for a lot of popular consumer queries, but no more. Profits at the site dropped 67% in the quarter on a 25% revenue decline.

 Miscellany

Social media is beginning to cover itself. Social blogging site Tumblr, which hosts more than 42 million blogs, will hire two professional editors to write about what’s going on on Tumblr. The thinking is that a community with that many members must generate a lot of content all by itself. Twitter and Facebook have both recently hired journalists to write about what’s hot in those communities.


Speaking of Facebook, if you’re trying to improve your presence there, take a few tips from Entrepreneur magazine. Starr Hall’s advice includes naming your page appropriately and greeting visitors with a “welcome” page rather than the Facebook wall. And have you heard about the new subscribe feature that lets people follow your public updates without friending you? Read more about that. We also recommend these tips for small businesses and these tips for slightly larger businesses, perhaps because we wrote them. The key to success on the world’s largest social network is engagement, not publishing. Ask questions, prompt response, provoke and amuse. Our vote for the most awesome Facebook page: Skittles. Unique voice and dripping with personality. “Skittles now has 20 million fans? If I had that many guinea pigs, I’d be unstoppable.”

By paulgillin | December 20, 2011 - 2:11 pm - Posted in BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia

Building ImplosionThe Annenberg School at the University of Southern California created a stir last week with its prediction that only four US daily newspapers will still be in print in five years. “We believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Jeffery I. Cole, the school’s director of the Center for the Digital Future. “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.”

How could this be? There are still more than 1,400 metro daily newspapers publishing in print in the US. As one tweeter pointed out, dailies would have to perish at the rate of five per week in order to meet USC Annenberg’s forecast.

We think the five-year timeframe is pessimistic, but we certainly believe USC Annenberg’s prediction will come true within a decade. We made precisely the same prediction five years ago – including identifying the same four titles Annenberg did – only we gave the print industry until 2025 to implode. It now appears that we were optimistic.

Here’s why the Annenberg prediction isn’t so far-fetched. American newspapers had a near-death experience three years ago when two venerable dailies – the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News – closed their doors, each after more than a century of continuous publication. Two other major titles – the San Francisco Chronicle and the Boston Globe – had their own brush with the reaper at the same time. Both were pulled back from the brink only after their unions made massive concessions and hundreds of highly-paid journalists lost their jobs.

Busting the Union

Early 2009 was when publishers broke the back of the Newspaper Guild. At the Globe, the union bargaining position was so weak that the contract that members finally accepted was actually worse than management’s original offer three months earlier. The showdown at the Globe was a turning point for the US newspaper industry. The management victory in the labor negotiations was so complete that publishers across the country were effectively given carte blanche to fire people by the thousands. Which they did. The amazing Erica Smith counted nearly 15,000 newspaper layoffs in 2009 and another 6,700 in the two years since. And her count doesn’t include the many jobs that were eliminated or scaled back without public announcement.

Newspaper publishers basically bought themselves time, and they used it to bring costs in line with revenues. Most newspapers have drastically scaled back the size of their print editions and many have cut back regional distribution. Publishers have raised subscription prices to milk more dollars out of the dwindling cadre of loyalists who are willing to pay for print. Unfortunately, they don’t have much time. The average ago of a daily newspaper reader in the US today is between 56 and 60, depending on whose estimates you believe. That population will shrink more rapidly than any other demographic group over the next 10 or 15 years. Seniors are also the least attractive audience to the advertisers who support print advertising. It’s a bad combination.

For the time being, printed newspapers can survive simply by cutting costs and raising subscription fees, but that strategy invariably turns into a death spiral. At some point publishers will no longer be able to afford to deliver a product that people want to pay to read in print.

Tipping Point

Circulation declines, which have been running about 8% to 10% annually, will accelerate. A tipping point will be reached and the whole print model will fall apart. We don’t know when that threshold will be reached, but demographic trends that indicate it will certainly happen within the next 10 years and will probably hit a lot of titles simultaneously.

The death of the printed daily doesn’t mean the death of print. Many publishers have cut back out unprofitable Saturday and Monday editions as a way to save costs, and more will certainly follow suit. Sunday editions may be around 20 years from now because of the revenue from flyers and coupons. But many newspapers will no longer be able to support a daily publishing schedule within a few years.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that many publishers are beginning to figure out the economics of digital revenues. A milestone was reached just a couple of months ago when the New York Times Co. released its first earnings report since it instituted a paywall early this year. As we reported at the time, Ryan Chitturn of the Columbia Journalism Review estimated that the Times’ digital revenue in the quarter actually exceeded its editorial costs, meaning that the paper could conceivably publish profitably without a print edition. We don’t expect the Times will shut down its presses anytime soon, but publishers across the country should cheer its success at crossing that threshold.

The Times is making the move to digital faster and more effectively than any other daily newspaper. Assuming other publishers follow its lead, we can expect that many major metro dailies will figure out a sustainable digital formula over the next five years. At that point they can begin to wind down their print operations without fear of giving up the farm. This won’t be pretty. Lots of jobs will go away when the presses shut down. However, the brands may survive and even begin to grow again.


Speaking of The New York Times, the parent Times Company is in “advanced talks” to sell off 16 regional newspapers, including titles in Florida, California, North Carolina, and Alabama. The Times Co. will continue to own the Globe and International Herald Tribune. Analysts are saying the move simply removes a headache for the Times, since the regional media were collectively losing money, and the company can now focus on its core business, which is a good thing these days.

Miscellany

We know the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money and facing criticism that it’s slow, antiquated and inflexible. So in a bold move to remedy its situation, the USPS is responding by becoming slower and less flexible. Read what the recently announced changes in service mean to publishers. We actually don’t want to be too hard on the Post Office, since many of its problems stem from a congressional requirement that it fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. That’s not a typo: 75 years.

And Finally…

Craig SilvermanThe holidays bring family, friends, eggnog, and, best of all, the Crunks. Only they’re not called the Crunks any more since our friend Craig Silverman (left) gained the legitimacy of a Poynter affiliation and began publishing his collection of the year’s best media gaffes as “The year in media errors and corrections” on Poynter Online. Thankfully, the content is still the same.

This year’s roundup of the funniest and most outrageous mistakes and corrections is headlined by several major news organizations that confused the President of the United States with the world’s most notorious terrorist and announced the death of “Obama Bin Laden.” One anchorwoman on Canadian television made the mistake three times in just 17 seconds and apparently didn’t even notice.

We like the newspaper headline that reminded readers to “turn your cocks back one hour at 2 a.m. Sunday,” but our favorite is a lengthy correction from The Guardian about this year’s Royal wedding. It includes the passage:

“The piece referred to “damaging stories of royal profligacy past: Charles with his staff of 150, and an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him”. [The couple’s press secretary] writes, “The Prince of Wales does not employ and has never employed an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him. This is a myth without any basis in factual accuracy.”

This stuff is too good to be made up. Thank you, Craig.

By paulgillin | August 16, 2011 - 6:47 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Demographics, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Local news, Newspapers, Paywalls

Tool boothThe Helena (Mont.) Independent Record just introduced a subscription plan for digital customers. Here’s how the paper describes it:

We will not be charging to view the following content online: the front page, classifieds, all advertisements and advertising promotions, special sections, auctions, community calendar or customer service pages.

Webpages that will be charging for viewership – after 15 free views per month – are local, state, national and world news pages; local and regional sports; news accessed by Facebook and Twitter; opinion pages; obituaries; entertainment (except AP wire); health, outdoors, weddings, anniversaries; births, lottery; weather; archives; comments; photo galleries and videos.

A monthly online subscription is $4.99; if you have a print subscription, your online subscription is only $1.99 per month. An annual online subscription is $49.99 per year; or if you have a print subscription, it is only $19.99.

Got all that? Better keep a pen and paper handy, because once you get to those 15 views, get out the credit card. That is, unless you’re reading the front page or a “special section,” whatever that is. And forget about the kind of free pass from Twitter that The New York Times gives you. Social media referrals count toward the 15-ppm limit.

In Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has joined the paywall parade. Here’s how PaidContent.org described its plan:

Existing print subscribers get free digital access. Non-print subscribers can either sign up for an “all-access” package for $19.95 per month, which includes digital access and a print subscription for one person, or purchase a digital-only subscription—the price of which varies based on location.  Oahu residents pay $9.99 per month or $50 per year; other Hawaii residents pay $4.95 per month or $25 per year, and those outside the state of Hawaii pay $1.95 per month or $10 per year. The site is also offering a $0.99 day pass, primarily aimed at tourists and former tourists who are interested in specific events.

Clear enough? If you really want to know what’s going on in Hawaii, you’re best off moving out of state. God forbid you’re unlucky enough to live in the newspaper’s home city.

One more example, from the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle:

Digital-only subscribers get unfettered access to our site for $6.95 per month. This subscription fee will include the iPad app as well. Current print subscribers pay a reduced rate of only $2.95 to add these services…Passers-by and casual readers still will have access to breaking news, video, photos and blogs. We also will allow all users access to 25 premium pages monthly as a sample.

With 46% of small newspapers already charging for some online content, and another 39% planning to do so, the online news world will soon be pockmarked with digital toll booths, each charging different fees. Even the major metros can’t agree on a plan. PaidContent.org assembled a comparison chart of what the big papers are doing earlier this year. If you can find any patterns there, let us  know.

We’re not saying variety is a bad thing – lots of businesses compete on price – but when the product is already perceived as a commodity, then confusion tends to drive customers away. Small publishers evidently don’t see it that way, given the large number that are settling in the paywall camp these days. But are they growing their businesses or just trying to protect what’s left of them?

Mathew Ingram said it well in a recent piece in BusinessWeek:

The biggest flaw in a paywall isn’t that the math is questionable, or even that a wall is inherently a backward-facing strategy, aimed at stacking sandbags around a paper’s content…The biggest flaw…is that walling up your content is an invitation to free competitors…to come and take away your readers.

One of the major reasons the newspaper industry is in such dire straits right now is because barrriers to entry have collapsed. Paywalls are an invitation to competitors to take away all but the most loyal (i.e., oldest) readers. AOL’s Patch has recently opened an outpost in our home town, and we admire the work its tiny staff is doing to bring us news from around the corner that our regional daily doesn’t cover. Despite allegations of sweatshop-like working conditions at Patch, we believe AOL will have no trouble finding journalists to staff its local offices. Between Patch, labor-of-love sites like this one and an assortment of listservs and Facebook pages, we’re more aware of what’s going on in our community than we ever were when we subscribed to a daily.

We believe that paywalls can work if they are simple, transparent and perceived by the customer to be reasonably priced. There is room in the market for services that could federate many small publishers under a single subscription plan, and we expect some cohesion to emerge from the current mess.

Ultimately, though, paywalls will only work if the publishers who deploy them can deliver value their readers can’t get anywhere else. Can the newspaper owners holding the sandbags today honestly say they are doing that?

Miscellany

We’ve noted before the irony that editors who are so committed to hacking through everyone else’s hype roll over when the spin doctor is their own employer. The Orange (TX) Leader upholds that proud tradition in an un-bylined story announcing a reduction in its publishing schedule and the end of home delivery by news carriers.

Combining the Saturday and Sunday editions isn’t a cutback in frequency, but a reader service, said publisher Eric Bauer. “It will be available in the Saturday mail, so people will have more time to enjoy it,” he said. And editor Gabriel Pruitt is almost giddy about cutting frequency to thrice-weekly: “I could not be more proud and excited about how we will better serve this community…Readers can expect more in-depth stories, insightful information, photos and videos.”

The words “reduction,” “cutback” or “cost-cutting” don’t appear anywhere in the story. In fact, there’s no indication that the changes are anything but a reader service. We suspect that if the announcement was coming from the local public works department, it would be handled quite differently.


Print stalwarts will be relieved to hear that at least one major professional group is still committed to the supremacy of ink on dead trees: America’s school administrators. A recent survey conducted by The Haselton Group found that administrators prefer print editions of top trade magazines rather than online editions or e-newsletters from the same publications. Administrators get 45% of their industry-related information from printed trade magazines, “far outweighing the combined total of next three greatest sources: blogs, national newspapers and local newspapers.”

Administrators are joined in their loyalty by the many college journalism programs that are still teaching inverted pyramid style and how their students can find their first job on a daily.