The New York Times: Out of print in ten years?

It isn’t anything particularly special to hear people talking about the declining market for print newspapers, and how market dynamics and demographic trends have put the traditional newspaper publishing model at risk.

At the same time, most newspaper publications have found it quite challenging to “migrate” their print customers to paid-subscription digital platforms. The plethora of free news sites online makes it difficult to entice people to pay for digital access to the news – even if the quality of the “free” coverage is lower.

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, appearing on CNBC’s Power Lunch program (February 12, 2018).

But it was quite something to hear a forecast made by Mark Thompson, The New York Times’ CEO.  Earlier this month, Thompson made remarks during CNBC’s Power Lunch broadcast that amounted to a prediction that the NYT’s print edition won’t be around in another ten years.

Thompson went on to explain that his company’s objective is to build the digital product even while print is going away:

“The key thing for us is that we’re pivoting. Our plan is to go on serving our loyal print subscribers as long as we can.  But meanwhile, to build up the digital business so that we can have a successful growing company and a successful news operation long after print is gone.”

It’s one thing for newspapers in various cities across the country to be facing the eventuality of throwing in the towel on their print product. It’s quite another for a newspaper as vaunted as The New York Times to be candidly predicting this result happening.

It would seem that the NYT, along with the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and possibly USA Today would be the four papers most able to preserve their print editions because of their business models (USA Today’s hotel distribution program) or simply because of their vaunted reputations as America’s only daily newspapers with anything approaching nationwide distribution.

I guess this is what makes the Thompson remarks so eyebrow-raising. If there isn’t a long-term future for The New York Times when it comes to print, what does that say about the rest of the newspaper industry?  “Hopeless” seems like the watchword.

It will be interesting indeed if, a decade from now, we find no print newspapers being published in this country save for hyper-local news publications – the ones which rely on print subscribers seeing their friends and family in the paper for weddings, funerals, community activities, school sports and other such parochial (or vanity) purposes.

Interesting … but a little depressing, too.

Rupert Murdoch’s “Paid Content” Gamble

Rupert MurdochMedia mogul Rupert Murdoch’s pronouncement last week that beginning in July 2010, online content for all of his news media properties will be available for a fee – not for free – has surprised many in the industry.

“Quality journalism is not cheap,” Murdoch declared. His announcement comes hard on the heels of his massive media conglomerate News Corporation reporting a ~$3.4 billion loss for the last fiscal year.

While admiring Mr. Murdoch’s brave stance and willingness to get out in front of an issue that has bedeviled the newspaper industry for the past four or five years, one is left wondering if he’s playing the role of Don Quixote rather than Richard the Lionheart in this drama.

For sure, the pay-per-view business model looks great to any publishing company that has seen the advertising-driven business model come under so much stress and strain in recent years. And The Wall Street Journal, one of Murdoch’s properties, has been able to charge a fee for online access in a practice that dates back prior to that publication’s acquisition by News Corporation.

So what will happen in this glorious experiment? Will legions of newshounds flock to the various Murdoch sites – The Wall Street Journal, Times of London, Australian, New York Post – and plunk down pay-per-view dollars or a monthly access fee for the privilege of reading the latest news bits?

Or will people rely on the many other (free) outlets for news, while also receiving and passing along “copy-and-paste” materials over the web — an effortless task that can be completed in mere seconds?

[And good luck trying to use legal means to prevent the dissemination of copyrighted material; the litigation costs could well outstrip any compensation dollars awarded, while being a major distraction inside the company and causing a PR kerfuffle outside.]

That giant sucking sound you hear could be the hordes of cyber-visitors heading on over to CNN, USA Today and other free news sites, whose traffic volume will spike and perhaps even bring in additional advertising revenues off the extra hits. Would these and other free, advertising-driven media properties like to find ways to increase revenues? Sure. But most of them would prefer to be #3 or #4 to take the leap on paid content – not a high-risk first or second.

There will always be some people willing to pay for premium content. But let’s face it; most news isn’t “premium.” It’s a commodity – and its dissemination is helped along by hundreds or thousands of people copying and forwarding articles and and/or links via e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook … you name it.

Rupert Murdoch has a history of being pretty savvy when it comes to the news business. And certainly he has the power and the resources to undertake this new effort.

But his naiveté may be showing on this one. He is, after all, nearly 80 years old and notoriously online-illiterate himself. And while the saying goes that “knowledge is power” … “power without knowledge” isn’t usually a good recipe for success.