Monday, February 02, 2009

Newspapers, will they be paid for and will they be digital?

The answer to this question is obviously yes, and yes. But there is a widespread and total conviction in the newspaper industry itself that paid for digital newspapers will not fly. Anyone who doubts this is considered to be an unrealistic dreamer. Roy Greenslade, who puts out great blogs about newspapers for the Guardian subscribes to this view. But Roy is not blinkered and the other day he mentioned a countervailing opinion:

"Giving away information for free on the internet while still charging 50 cents to $1 for the print version of the paper was one of the most fundamentally flawed business decisions of the past 25 years. Newspapers told their paying customers that the information truly had no value." - Professor Paul MacArthur, Utica College, New York. Greenslade, quoting Storch
This seemed such a sensible and sane view that I hunted down the original interview. You will find a good deal of balanced reason in the Professor's views. From the passage quoted he goes on to say:
Why would anyone pay 50 cents for something he or she can get for free? This poorly conceived and obviously flawed strategy has helped put the newspaper industry into its current financial condition and hastened the demise of many publications. Any newspaper that attempted this strategy deserves the consequential losses.
The rest of the interview is also good sense. Sooner or later newspapers, which have become over dependent on advertising, and magazines that rely 90% on advertising, will realise that digital subscriptions are a good source of revenue. Sooner or later newspapers will stop obsessing about the fact that they all carry the daily news (in different selections, shapes and formats) and learn to live with the fact that they each and everyone have a style and editorial format which endears them to their readers, and for which some readers will be willing to pay reasonable subscriptions for a good digital service.

Professor MacArthur is also acute on the Detroit newspaper crisis (the 2 dailies in Detroit have moved to stop home delivery 4 days of the week).
It makes them irrelevant. The Detroit papers are breaking the newspaper habit. They are telling their customers, "You can no longer trust us to deliver the news on a daily basis."
Detroit seems to be as sadly out of touch with the business of newspaper publishing as its car industry.

1 comment:

Paul MacArthur said...

Adam -

Thank you for you kind comments.

- Paul J. MacArthur