Death of newspapers?

Keith Hudson

My guess is that newspapers will never die — any more than books with the advent of the internet.  They’ll undoubedly be taken to the point of bankruptcy, as many have gone through it already and died.  What newspapers . . . haven’t yet got into their heads is that the reason for their dying is the same as that of the BBC and channel television — they’re bundling too much and thereby become too costly.

They got into bundling because of advertisers.  Firstly advertisers realised that perhaps some of the particular class of readers for a newspapers might also be a market for their goods.  All well and good.  The newspapers then thought that if they devoted a bit more space to particular sub-topics which might be suitable for their particular class of readers then they would get more advertising.  And so it proved.  The result is that we have now newspapers that cover far too many subjects that few of us have the time or the wish to read.  And, as the economics of the whole situation has turned out, the price of paying for the total bundled product now includes the costs of extra paper and printing the adverts also.

My estimate is that if I were to pay for my ideal daily newspaper it would be one third cheaper by the non-printing of the of the undesired news and another one tbird cheaper by the non-printing of the irrelevant adverts. At half the cost it would then be good value and create profits for the owner.

Incidentally, publishers of books have long cottoned onto this principle.  Popular books of a century ago would contain several pages of advertisments.  They no longer do so. Essentially when people buy books they do so because of the author or the particular content. Or was it the advertisers who realised this?  Is this what is now happening to newspapers as more adverts now go onto the internet — a sort of double whammy in addition to the straight competition beween the different media?

I buy the Daily Telegraph, my ghastly-excellent newspaper and have it delivered daily to my front door despite the fact that it’s all available on the internet anyway (except for its daily crossword!).  I often scan the headlines on the website without reading the stories before my paper copy is delivered.  Its news coverage is better than those of the Financial Times or the Independent or the Guardian, which I might otherwise read, and its business section is as good as the FT for my purposes, even though its editorial line is ghastly, while that of the FT is changeable and those of the I or the G as often much to my unliking as the DT‘s.

But I’m going off topic.  Newspapers and books still have advantages which the elecronic display doesn’t have — just as the latter has its own advantages.  Newspapers and books can be scanned backwards and forwards very quickly. If it’s necessar to consult several books or newspapers more or less simultaneously then they can easily be laid out on a desk top to be darted between.  You can’t do that very easily on a laptop, though you might be able to, I suppose, with a computer with a very large screen.

Magazines, which are specialied have no problem surviving.  If newspapers want to survive over the longer term then they’ll have to learn to unbundle.  Incidentally I’ve just thought of a supreme example of unbundling —  encyclopedias.  They quickly died once Wikipedia came along.  The same applies to dictionaries.  Although I have a minitiaturised version of the Oxford English Dictionary on my desk I still don’t consult it for most ordinary purposes but go straight onto the net.

Horses for courses,  Books and newspapers will still survive, but newspaper have got an awful lot to learn yet before they’re viable again.

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