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More on Newspapers and Whether or Not They

In my column this past Monday I mentioned that newspaper web site data had to be examined with some caution.

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: May 7, 2007

In my column this past Monday I mentioned that newspaper web site data had to be examined with some caution. It is pretty clear that despite the hype, their traffic growth is definitely slowing down. There were two articles that relate to this. One was an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal today, focused on the relationship of Google and newspapers. There was a good quote:

Whether or not content creators like it, this is the age of fragmentation. In industry after industry, consumers are voting with their feet against old methods of packaging and distributing information. They want to pick and choose what's of interest to them, without having to pay for or wade through what isn't. That change, midwived by technology, has shaken or shattered content companies' business models. It's made everything they do more risky. And it's stripped them of power they once enjoyed, forcing them to work with new companies and industries that somehow got to set the rules. Faced with such a situation, it's understandable that content creators are angry. But the chance to set the ground rules passed some time ago, and it's high time for content creators to realize that and adjust. If you put executives from a TV network, a record label and a newspaper at a bar and let them get to sharing their troubles, they'd find themselves telling much the same story: Their content is being chopped up and reused in new ways they can't control.

There was an excellent commentary called "How to Sink a Newspaper," which basically explains how newspapers got the pay model backwards. The author never really says that, but that's what I took from it. The WSJ is the only one that seems to have gotten it right, getting into pay-for-content early, strategically working the teaser free information in a way that builds interest in subscribing, and keeping their paid content out of Google. Not every newspaper has the kind of franchise the Wall Street Journal has, of course, with a worldwide readership. But they are having fewer problems than similar mastheads like the New York Times. Whether or not newspapers "get it" is relatively unimportant. For years, newspaper owners and groups have patted themselves on their collective backs about how important they are and how smart they were to use their newspaper cash buying broadcast media and advertising outlets like billboard companies. The definitely "get it" now: they're downsizing and cutting back operations and sending blame wherever they can. What they don't "get" is that it's not about to stop. Their fixed-cost infrastructures look a lot bigger and hungrier now. They've only cut the easy stuff. The real stuff has yet to happen.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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