Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dan Kennedy: Print is dying, Digital is no savior: The Long, Ugly Decline of the Newspaper Continues Apace ... by gimleteye

We started blogging Eye On Miami in 2007. Not sure how far this unpaid ultra-marathon can continue. We began with the entrepreneurial spirit that the market (ie. for newspapers) failed to print news and views of importance to us; mainly because subscription or advertiser-driven newspapers do not want to bite the hand that feeds them.

Since we began, a few facts became obvious to us. First, maintaining a loyal audience requires daily blogging. The reason we can keep an audience at EOM is that our readers know we write from experience and knowledge about the inner workings of Miami-Dade County (and sometimes the municipalities) and Florida. We write stories that sometimes people are surprised to read.

We are, as a result, sometimes investigative journalists. But we also bring strong opinions to what we write, and that is not accepted practice in journalism. We do that as a matter of economy of time. Since we are unpaid and don't have supervisors/ editors, we often write what we think or freely lift from other websites. To be sure, it is not a financial model. One writer dismissed what we do, saying: if she doesn't get paid, she doesn't write. Period. Fair enough. But then, you don't get views that are widely shared by readers but rarely in print because editors fear the backlash from advertisers.

I call what we do: civic journalism. Sometimes we investigate. Sometimes we opine. We always try to have a daily piece of interest, even if that means highlighting what other media have printed or blogged or streamed. Because we do this work for free, we are part of the flood of web-based "news" that is putting newspapers out of business.

What happened: newspapers had captive audiences. Their profit models were disrupted by online, free sources of information; sometimes more specific and tailored to audience segments than they (newspaper publishers) could provide without offending advertisers. To maintain profitability -- and the interest of investors who clamored for profits and "growth" from web-based sources of "news" -- publishers of newspapers axed staff and began putting out radically slimmed versions of the practical, payable, and possible. "All the news fit to print"? Scarcely. Newspapers began to bleed subscribers, and the result is exactly as Dan Kennedy describes for Medium (a high quality, free-to-readers service of in-depth articles of wide public interest: "The sky is falling on print newspapers faster than you think".

This is not good news for the bloggers at EOM. We do what we do here because we have already invested the time to understand in depth our subjects. We can be investigative journalists -- the highest function of print newspapers -- but if we did it all the time it would take over our lives.

Along this line, what I've learned in sixty one years on the planet: democracy cannot survive without a strong and independent press. The notion that what we do here is critical is frightening, because who can afford to write for free? This is a long way of saying: if American voters and taxpayers were smart, we would make reversing the decline of newspapers a high priority. Hiding content behind firewalls is not working. Basing newspapers (or web based services) on voluntary subscriptions: that is not working, either. (If it is, please let us know where!)

The sky is falling on print newspapers faster than you think
Medium, January 20, 2016
Dan Kennedy

Last October, a McKinsey report declared, “We believe that many of the people likely to abandon print newspapers and print consumer magazines have already done so…. We believe most of this core audience — households that have retained their print subscriptions despite having access to broadband — will continue to do so for now, effectively putting a floor on the print markets.”

Wow. Just because of inertia? Is the only medium-term threat to print the fact that most of its current audience will gradually die over the next 30 years? That would be great news, especially because nearly all newspapers still get most of their revenue from print advertising.

But it doesn’t feel right in a world in which even mature adults’ media consumption habits seem to be quickly evolving.

Then, amid the hubbub about the Boston Globe’s delivery problems, I was struck by the Globe’s statement that they have only 115,000 daily print subscribers, and only 205,000 on Sunday. Really? I had had a sense that the Globe was still much bigger than that. So I poked around online, and, indeed found much larger numbers for Globe print circulation.

But they were from 2013, which is the last time print newspaper circulation figures were widely reported.

The simple chart below lays out the numbers for “total average print circulation” of the nation’s 25 largest newspapers as of March 2013. These are the basis for the figures you get if you Google search the issue or look for a list on Wikipedia.

Then the chart compares these with the number of copies most recently reported to the Alliance for Audited Media (in September 2015) for “individually paid print circulation,” that is the number of copies being bought by subscription or at newsstands. This is the best indication of consumer demand for the product. In both cases, the figures are for weekday average circulation. Sunday numbers are generally higher.

A few quick observations:

· There remain only two print newspapers in the entire country (the Wall Street Journal and New York Times) that sell more than a half million copies per average weekday, only six that sell a quarter of a million copies and probably [correction: not many more than] 22 that sell more than 100,000.
· To be sure, the comparisons are not apples-to-apples. The 2013 figures include promotional copies. But the 2015 figures are not only more recent, but a better indication of consumer behavior — and the best measure of the audience most print advertisers are seeking to reach.
· Nearly everyone in publishing with whom I shared the 2015 paid figures found them surprisingly low. There is no question that they are dramatically lower than the widely available 2013 numbers.
· If the 2013 numbers represent the “reality” that even industry professionals have in their heads, but the 2015 numbers represent the facts on the ground, how long can it be before print advertising prices (and thus newspaper revenues) come under further severe pressure?
· Finally, and to return to the McKinsey report with which we began, if print circulation is much lower than generally believed, what basis is there for confidence the declines are ending and a plateau lies ahead?


Anonymous said...

The prospect, of a more then 300 million society, governing themselves anything resembling by democratic principles, is indeed questionable, without a rigorous press.

But that ship has sailed, long ago. We would not have had Irak, but for a press intimidated by their corporate masters.

Heck, we would not have a rabbit republican side, if the press would have laved them out of town from day one.

In the 80tis I used to read with interest in the Herald the china reports from a guy called Brown or something similar. Then after a few months his reports became nondescript vanilla. After a wile I thought he was a CIA plant under journalist cover. And then his reports disappeared. Like so many articles serving the community, first getting smaller, then becoming irrelevant. How long is a person going to pay an ever increasing news paper price, with the nagging feeling of getting taken advantage of? Even the advertising mix the herald managed to screw up for my neighborhood. It's really sad.

The truth is staring us in the eyes:

Corporate takeover of the body politic in USA.

Unless the corporate takeover is being addressed, noting will change.

Ted Guy said...

I still have print subscriptions to the Stuart News (7 days) and Palm Beach Post (Sun. only) for two reasons only: my wife likes to read them in print and they require a print subscription to get the E edition. Dan Kennedy's comments are right on point!