As if it isn’t enough that newspaper and magazine publishers have to compete with an ever-widening array of information providers, in the effort to migrate subscription revenues from print to digital these publishers are squaring off against an additional challenge: subscription fatigue.
Not every consumer is opposed to paying for media, but with so many fee-based streaming services now being offered — including the ones by powerhouses like Netflix and Spotify — trying to get people to focus on “yet another” resource is proving difficult.
Moreover, when it comes to news information sources it’s even more challenging. According to a recent Digital News Report prepared by Reuters Institute, when given a choice between paying for news or paying for a video streaming service, only ~12% of respondents in the Reuters survey stated that they would pick the news resource.
It seems that with so many time demands on people’s online activities, fewer are willing to pay for access to information that they don’t wish to commit to consuming on a regular basis. Unlike most of the entertainment streaming services, news stories are often available from free sources whenever a consumer might choose to access such news stories. Those alternative news sources may not be as comprehensive, but i’s a tradeoff many consumers appear willing to make.
This is hurting everyone in the news segment, including local newspapers in smaller markets which have faced a major falloff in print advertising revenues.
Underscoring this dynamic, more than 1,800 newspapers in the United States have closed their doors in the past 15 years. Today, fewer than half of the country’s counties have even one newspaper within their borders. This fallout is affecting the availability of some news information, as local media have a history of covering stories that aren’t covered elsewhere.
But it’s yet more collateral damage in the sea change that’s upended the world of newspapers and periodicals in recent years.
More findings from the Reuters Institute report can be accessed here.
The travails of the newspaper industry aren’t anything new or surprising. For the past decade, the business model of America’s newspapers has been under incredible pressures. Among the major causes are these:
The availability of up-to-the-minute, real-time news from alternative (online) sources
the explosion of options people have available to find their news
The ability to consume news free of charge using most of these alternative sources
The decline of newspaper subscriptions and readership, leading to a steep decline in advertising revenues
Exacerbating these challenges is the fact that producing and disseminating a paper-based product is substantially more costly than electronic delivery of news. And with high fixed costs being spread over fewer readers, the problems become even more daunting.
But one relative bright spot in the newspaper segment — at least up until recently — has been local papers. In markets without local TV stations, such papers continued to be a way for the citizenry to read up on local news and events. It’s been the place where they could see their friends and neighbors written about and pictured. And let’s not forget high-school sports and local “human-interest” news items that generally couldn’t be found anywhere else.
Whatever online “community” presence there might be covering these smaller markets — towns ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 population — is all-too-often sub-standard — in some cases embarrassingly bad.
But now it seems that the same problems afflicting the newspaper segment in general have seeped into this last bastion of the business.
It’s particularly ominous in places where daily (or near-daily) newspapers are published, as compared to weekly pubs. A case in point is the local paper in Youngstown, Ohio — a town of 65,000 people. Its daily paper, The Vindicator, has just announced that it will be shutting its doors after 150 years in business.
The same family has owned The Vindicator for four generations (since 1887). It isn’t that the longstanding owners didn’t try mightily to keep the paper going. In a statement to its readers, the family outlined the paper’s recent struggles to come up with a stable business model, including working with employees and unions and investing in new, more efficient presses. Efforts to raise the price of the paper or drive revenue to the digital side of the operation failed to secure sufficient funds, either.
Quoting from management’s statement:
“In spite of our best efforts, advertising and circulation revenues have continued to decline and The Vindicator continues to operate at a loss.
Due to [these] great financial hardships, we spent the last year searching for a buyer to continue to operate The Vindicator and preserve as many jobs as possible, while maintaining the paper’s voice in the community. That search has been unsuccessful.”
As a result, the paper will cease publication by the end of the summer. With it the jobs of nearly 150 employees and ~250 paper carriers will disappear. But something else will be lost as well — the sense of community that these home-town newspapers are uncommonly able to foster and deliver.
For a city like Youngstown, which has seen its population decline with the loss of manufacturing jobs, it’s yet another whammy.
Because of the population loss dynamics, it might seem like local conditions are the cause of The Vindicator‘s situation, but some see a bigger story. One such observer is Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton, who writes:
“I don’t think this is just a Youngstown story. I fear we’ll look back on this someday as the beginning of an important — and negative — shift in local news in America.”
What do you think? Is this the start of a new, even more dire phase for the newspaper industry? Is there the loss of a newspaper that has his your own community particularly hard? Please share your thoughts with other readers here.
From the New York Times on down, leading publishers are telling us that print versions of their newspapers will eventually disappear. The only question is how soon it will happen.
But what are the implications of this pending shift to all-digital? Will online news consumers be as strongly engaged as they have been with the print newspaper product?
We now have a window into answering this question by looking at the experience of The Independent, a UK national daily paper. Two years ago, The Independent made the shift to become an online-only publication.
And the result was … no measurable increase traffic shifting from offline to online. That finding comes from a before/after analysis of the publication’s performance as conducted by European communications industry researchers Neil Thurman and Richard Fletcher.
Instead, these customers became like other digital readers. That is to say, in the words of the researchers, “easily distracted, flitting from link to link, and a little allergic to depth.”
Let’s drill down a little deeper. At the time it ceased publishing a print edition of its newspaper, The Independent had a paid print circulation of approximately 40,000, along with ~58 million monthly unique visits on its digital platform.
That a humongous chasm … but the researchers found that the publication’s relatively small number of print readers were responsible for more than 80% of all time spent consuming all of The Independent’s news content – print and digital.
That is correct: Considering engagement on all of its digital platforms, all of that added up to fewer than 20% of the time collectively spent reading the print publication.
The chart below shows what happened to readership. All of the time The Independent’s print readers spent with the paper seems to have simply disappeared when the company ceased publishing a print version. It didn’t transition to independent.co.uk.
Even more telling, the researchers found that half of print recipients had read the newspaper “almost every day,” whereas online visitors read a news story in The Independent, on average, a little more than twice per month.
While print readers typically spent from 40 to 50 minutes reading each daily edition of The Independent, online readers spent, on average, just 6 minutes over the entire month.
Here’s the thing: Whereas print newspapers usually have few if any competitors in their immediate space, online there are an unlimited number of competing sites to attract (and distract) the reader – all of them just a mouse-click away.
Even if we discount a measure of exaggeration on the part of respondents in terms of how much time they actually expend on their reading consumption versus what they reported to survey-takers, the print/online dynamics reveal stark differences. As researcher Thurman reports:
“By going online-only, The Independent has decimated the attention it receives. The paper is now a thing more glanced at, it seems, than gorged on. It has sustainability but less centrality.”
There is one silver-lining of shifting to an all-digital platform, at least in the case of The Independent. That shift has resulted in increased international reach by the publication.
But The Independent is a national newspaper, unlike most of America’s leading papers, and so that sort of positive aspect can’t be expected to apply very easily to those other media properties. How many people outside of central Colorado can be expected to read a digital edition of the Denver Post?
The main takeaway from The Independent’s experience is that for any paper choosing to go all-digital, chances are high that the audience isn’t going to follow along – certainly not at the level of loyal, in-depth time once spent with the print product.
Sure, the very real costs of printing and delivery will now be a thing of the past. But a significant – even dramatic – decline in reach, influence and impact will be the new reality for the publishers
For people who might be hoping for a turnaround in the news industry that could take us back to a world more like the one we once knew – you know, with actual journalists writing primary-sourced stories and conducting formal fact-checking – those days seem less likely than ever to return.
In late July, analytics firm MediaRadar reported on the latest stats for print advertising in the United States – and they’re continuing a long slide by falling another 13% between January and April of 2018.
Even worse: Most of the companies that stopped their print advertising during the period didn’t migrate their ad dollars over to digital. Instead, they stopped advertising altogether.
This by now numbingly-familiar trend in advertising is directly related to the financial well-being of the news media, as advertising has traditionally bankrolled the lion’s share of newsroom activities.
According to Pew, in 2008 America’s newsrooms collectively had approximately 114,000 reporters, editors, photographers and camera personnel on staff. As of 2017, the number had plummeted to around 88,000.
That loss of ~27,000 people represents nearly 25% of all the newsroom jobs that were existed in newspaper, radio, TV/cable and other information services in 2008.
Not surprisingly, the biggest decline was experienced in the newspaper segment – down a whopping 45% to ~39,000 jobs. The digital-native sector was something of a bright spot, with job numbers increasing by nearly 80% over the same period to reach a level of ~13,000 jobs in 2017.
But digital news personnel growth hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the job losses suffered by the other newsrooms.
What’s more, even digital newsroom jobs aren’t particularly secure, with frequent restructurings being the order of the day thanks to the unsettled nature of the industry as it attempts to adjust to ever-evolving news-consumption preferences.
How are news media organizations responding? Give them credit for trying all sorts of gambits – from membership programs to paid newsletters, premium news paywalls and in-house content studios.
But how many of those efforts have proven to be financially robust enough to shoulder the costs of running a “legitimate” newsroom? Whatever the number, it hasn’t been sufficient, because whether we like it or not, most people have become conditioned to expect their news and information delivered free of charge. And while many may lip service to favoring traditional journalistic practices, most aren’t willing to put up their own money to pay for it as part of the bargain.
Meanwhile, the hollowing out of traditionally structured newsrooms continues on, with no end in sight. I wonder if there even are other financial or business models that could stop the hemorrhaging of jobs in newsrooms.
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.
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.
The topic of “fake news” is all over the journalism ecosphere these days. It’s the subject of charges and countercharges tossed back and forth between politicians, industry specialists, the scientific community and the media.
In the current environment, even the slightest mistake in the media – no matter how innocuous – can turn into a contentious social media debate, whereas in the past it might have merited just a quick corrective notation as a follow-up.
These days, more often than not everyone gets sullied in the process – even innocent parties caught in the crossfire. So, it isn’t surprising that as the issue of “fake news” has risen in prominence, fact checking in journalism has taken on more importance than ever.
In 2015, the Poynter Institute established its International Fact-Checking Network to support initiatives aimed at ensuring better accuracy and journalistic best practices. In addition, over the past year the New York Times and several other prominent newspapers have brought more fact checkers on board – not merely to verify the information being reported, but also to work in “real time” with journalists – checking breaking news stories for accuracy as they are being produced.
These new fact-checking resources have been added without a lot of fanfare, but it’s a quiet acknowledgement that the “fake news” controversy is one that strikes at the heart of the press’s reputation.
But there’s a significant shortcoming: The new emphasis on fact-checking is consequential in just one corner of the news universe. The arena of “news” now extends well beyond traditional outlets to also encompass social media platforms, blogs and a myriad of informational websites that frequently offer a distinct “point of view” in their reporting.
So, while the fact-checking resurgence may help buttress the reputation of “legacy” news organizations such as high-profile newspapers, national TV networks and marquee online news sites, that doesn’t mean it’s reaching into the many other places where people encounter and consume news.
I suspect that the “fake news” phenomenon is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, despite all of the good-faith efforts to keep it in check.
How’s this for an ironic twist: The Pew Research Center is reporting that the local TV newscasts if ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates across the United States are continuing to show viewership declines, even as stations are increasing the amount of the local news content they broadcast.
Early evening news (5 or 6 pm time slots) lost ~9% in viewership, dropping to 22.8 million viewers.
Morning news? It didn’t fare any better, falling a similar ~9% to just 10.8 million viewers.
But despite these continuing declines, there’s scant evidence that local station executives see local news as a losing proposition.
Instead, they appear to be doubling down on it, figuring that local news is one of the few remaining points of differentiation against online news sites that usually don’t provide very much in the way of in-depth local coverage.
Stats aside, one has to wonder how much longer local news can continue to be a differentiating factor for local TV stations? Those very same stations are creating their own competition by operating robust websites of their own. And of course, many people have become quite adept at punching their own zip codes into weather apps to obtain “micro-local” weather information.
Sports? There are thousands of websites and apps available that provide fingertip results and stats down to the most minute level of detail.
Furthermore, as the older population “ages out,” the notion of sitting down at a prescribed hour every day to watch the news on television is likely to go the way of newspapers. Which is to say, an inexorable slide into irrelevance.
It just isn’t how the world operates any longer … even if one is 60 or 70 years old.
More statistics from the Pew Research Center report can be accessed here.