AE Monthly

Articles - June - 2010 Issue

Newspapers Continue Their Rapid Decent

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Readers on this site may wonder whether this doomsday scenario is facing the book world as well. The situations are not identical, but as print media, the answer is probably more or less "yes." News is now being delivered to computer screens online. People have become used to obtaining information this way for a decade, so the process is more advanced. Books are more likely to be downloaded to electronic readers, something new to the market, so the migration to electronic is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, that migration appears almost as inevitable for books as for newspapers, even if it will take longer.

Authors and publishers also have another advantage over newspaper publishers. People have become accustomed to getting news online free. There is no such expectation with books, at least not yet, and if publishers don't so overcharge for their wares as to create a secondary market for file sharing, as the music industry did, they may be able to hold onto this advantage.

Getting back to newspapers, can they survive on the online free model, to which they now seem locked in? No one really knows. If they do survive, can they support the type of news staff they did as print media, or will the number/quality of reporters decline? Will newsmen be replaced with bloggers, long on opinion, short on facts?

One voice is holding out for a paid model for online news, a model that was tried early on and abandoned for lack of readership. That takes us to the one paper with an increase in circulation, and its controversial publisher. Rupert Murdoch firmly believes newspapers must charge for their online editions, a policy he has instituted with his publications. The Wall Street Journal, despite the ABC report, had a decline in print circulation too. However, the auditing service allowed the Wall Street Journal to include online subscribers to their circulation figures since their online subscriptions are paid. This provided their slim gain. Whether many people will pay for online subscriptions remains to be seen. Murdoch is probably right that they will if free content is not available, but first he may need to convince his competitors to charge as well. It is unlikely people will pay for news so long as they can get it elsewhere for free.

Murdoch faces a tough battle converting a world of free content to paid. However, television, once free when delivered over the air, has become a paid service when delivered through cable and satellite. The dreaded idea of "pay TV," a coin box attached to our television sets, never came to pass, and yet, in effect, most people now subscribe to a form of pay TV, despite the existence of free over-the-air television. More choices proved to be the key. Whatever one thinks of Rupert Murdoch, and his plans for news delivery, one should not underestimate his prescience as a businessman. After all, who would have thought Americans would rather get their news from a Glenn Beck than an Edward R. Murrow? Answer: Rupert Murdoch.

AE Monthly


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