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Newspaper suicide
Old 09-17-2012, 06:04 PM   #1
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Newspaper suicide

I've decided that newspapers are simply not content to die peacefully; they are now beginning to commit suicide.

I grew up with the New York Times, so I understand what quality journalism means. I have also lived for extended periods in Los Angeles and Washington, DC, as well as major cities in other countries. I have always loved the experience of reading a great newspaper over my morning coffee.

When I moved here over 20 years ago, I was confronted with a sad spectacle. There were two local papers, one morning and one afternoon. The afternoon paper died some years ago, so no comment necessary, but the morning paper (always much the larger circulation) started out below average IMHO and got steadily worse. Decent local news, but poor coverage of everything else.

As circulation gradually ebbed (like everywhere else), the paper continuously cut costs until today it's a mere shadow of its former self (which wasn't much to start with).

Even so, we continued to get daily delivery, which currently costs us $192 a year.

Today we got a letter from the publisher that in two more weeks the cost will jump to $270 a year. That's a 40% increase! Now I admit that the subscription price has crept up while our subscription cost has been grandfathered at a lower level, but still that amounts to a 32% increase over the current rate.

For the first time, I understand all the comments I've seen here from people dropping their print subscriptions. It's just amazing that the newspaper management can't change their paradigm.
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Old 09-17-2012, 06:13 PM   #2
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Our paper only offers Thursday, Friday and Sunday home delivered print editions. The other days they have a clunky on line version of the daily newsstand version as part of the subscription.

For free, they offer a slick on line version with constantly updated news.

So - clunky, old news for pay or slick, updated for free? Tough choice.
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Old 09-17-2012, 06:19 PM   #3
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Ultimately, I think you are right, as they are in a downward death spiral. Do you really know anyone who is under 40 who reads a newspaper? I most admit that I will continue to subscribe until they close the doors. Mine is $15 a month, but if they doubled it, I would still pay it. Why? Because at a dollar a day, it still represents the best value of entertainment I have. The morning newspaper and coffee are a ritual. I certainly get a dollar of entertainment value out of it. I better enjoy it while it lasts though.
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Old 09-17-2012, 06:31 PM   #4
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Like VCRs and travel agents, newspapers seem to be disappearing. My local paper that I have received for years is now a mere shadow of it's former self. But that's progress.

The world marches on and the demand for the milkman, and other products like buggy whips and the like drop precipitously.

There just may come a day in the not too distant future when newspaper delivery is a thing of the past.
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Old 09-17-2012, 08:49 PM   #5
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I agree that newspapers are almost a thing of the past. However, I'll still continue with the local paper which I get seven days a week. Like Mulligan, I enjoy the morning paper with a couple cups of coffee, sports first, then local and then the national news. Second cup is when I start the crosswords and sudoko (sp). I've given up on this as it takes too many brain cells to finish one and it's too much for me in the morning. If the paper came about 4PM I might be awake enough to finish one puzzle. I'll start saving the puzzles until it time for a gin and tonic.

The problem with the paper these days is there is just not enough of it to cover the bottom of our bird cage. I have to save up about three days to finish the cage. Really, it's not a bird cage, it's a parrot cage. Takes more paper.

Along with newspapers, I wonder how long it will be before libraries go by the wayside. Fifty years?
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Old 09-17-2012, 09:47 PM   #6
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Like others, I want to read a newspaper with my coffee. However the quality has been going down rapidly. Now they sent a letter that they are going up about 20% and it will include the online version "free." However, the online version has been free for years. Now it won't be. You can only get it with the 20% higher combo print/online subscription. You can not get either separately. If my husband didn't look forward to the sports page so much, I'd cancel in a heartbeat.
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Old 09-17-2012, 10:28 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post

Even so, we continued to get daily delivery, which currently costs us $192 a year.

Today we got a letter from the publisher that in two more weeks the cost will jump to $270 a year. That's a 40% increase! Now I admit that the subscription price has crept up while our subscription cost has been grandfathered at a lower level, but still that amounts to a 32% increase over the current rate.
Maybe they figure anybody that's cost sensitive would have already dropped the print version? After all, if you are willing to pay $192 when free online stuff is available, maybe you would pay $270.
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Old 09-17-2012, 10:37 PM   #8
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Another fossil who still likes getting my news in paper form (more for the commentary than the news which lags what you can get on the internet).

In terms of paper subscriptions we cut back over time and are now left with the Financial Times, the Economist and the South China Morning Post (the leadning English language newspaper out here). All three are still good quality and the prices are acceptable.

Others that we used to subscribe to such as Time, Newsweek, Business Week and a few others have long since been dropped. I've also found that when I have dropped a print subscription, I don't sign up for an on-line subscription either.
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Old 09-18-2012, 06:05 AM   #9
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All good comments.
What bothers me is that since the paper has become such a pale shadow of what it used to be (which wasn't much), the cost per issue just isn't worth it to us any more.

The online edition will be available for a smaller subscription fee, and we will certainly subscribe to that.

I have found over the past year or two that reading magazines and books on the iPad is actually very pleasant, so I'm sure I'll quickly get used to reading the newspaper that way too.
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Old 09-18-2012, 06:19 AM   #10
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All my subscriptions are now iPad as well. Over dinner the other night with neighbors, one pointed out so many that were losing jobs as a result - all those involved in the physical printing and distribution. My grandfather was a typesetter, and that got is family though the depression, so this view is a bit painful.

For me the local paper stopped being local and evolved into a generic & bland amalgamation of stuff that is similar across the country, with just a bit of real local flavor. The business model of relying more on ad revenue than subscription has failed for most publications.
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:15 AM   #11
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I still subscribe to the local paper here which I think does a good job of covering local events. They give some front page space to national/international events but the primary focus is local.

And they make a good effort to find upbeat stories, good news stories, and local things to do. The Thursday paper for example has a "Weekender" section that lists seemingly hundreds of things to do within about a 50-mile radius, many of them free. So anyone who complains there "isn't anything to do" simply isn't trying.

I hope they stay in business for a long time.
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:17 AM   #12
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In some case like the travel agent I am sympathetic when a technology comes and disrupts their business and destroys and industries. I doubt there is much the travel agent business could have done to prevent the disruption caused by the internet.

I don't have any sympathy for the newspaper business, I canceled my subscription when the local two newspaper turned into one and the price went up to near $20/month. I still fork over $100+ a year for the Wall St. Journal who smartly started charging for their online edition a dozen years ago.

In March 1999, my friend, who was the technical assistant to Andy Grove, Intel's legendary CEO, asked me to help him out with a speech that Andy delivering to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The ASNE conference had the editors from pretty much every newspaper. I managed to find a transcript but not the Powerpoint.


Quote:
The only time that’s pertinent to what we’re talking about here — what I think new The only time that’s pertinent to what we’re talking about here — what I think newspapers and media companies will have to deal with — is what happened to us in the mid-’80s. Intel was founded as a memory company. We basically invented the field, and for some period of time we were the predominant player in the field. Fifteen years later we found ourselves in a core business in real trouble, losing market share, losing money, losing definitional influence. And in the mid-’80s, the period of time you’re alluding to, we pulled the plug on the business that we stood for and devoted all of our energies to microprocessors and transitioned the company from a memory chip company that also did microprocessors to a microprocessor company that for all intents and purposes didn’t do anything else. That’s the background. It was a horrendous experience. A horrendous experience financially, we lost a lot of money. We had to cut back about a third of the company, and, equally difficult, we had to change the mind-set of all of our employees, particularly our management. That second one is more difficult, because you can lay people off and you’re done. You can close down a factory and you’re done. But minds have a way of creeping back to the form and status that they were genetically shaped to be. You can change somebody’s mind-set, but when they look away and come back, the old mind-set is back. You asked, “How did we know?” We should have known a lot earlier, but nothing sharpens the awareness of a situation like the sight of the gallows. The sight of the gallows was pretty bad. We had started the business. By definition we had a 100 percent share of the memory market. By the time we realized that we had lost, we were down to less than 3 or 4 percent of the memory market. We lost more money in the last year of our existence than the cumulative amount of money that we had made in the previous 15 years. It wasn’t very subtle. What bugs me as I look back is why it took such a horrendous situation for us to deal with something that an objective observer, which we were not, would have seen coming five or three years earlier. And the answer to that is we were not objective observers. We had the genetic mind-set that didn’t want to see those things until they were so incontrovertibly true that not facing them meant we were going to go out of business.
I don’t know quite what relevance you get out of it. If, in fact, you’re facing a similar situation, you’ll know when it is almost too late. And I don’t know how to set the timing of the process forward, except, in retrospect, we should have enlisted and listened to more objective observers than ourselves. ..

Now, back to the question, “What should an editor do?” The problem starts from the publisher’s standpoint, the business manager’s standpoint, because two things are happening. Very simply, again I know very little about the business of journalism, but you have completely oversimplified. To use Internet terminology, you get my eyeballs with the news coverage and sell advertising, either retail advertising or classifieds. You’re under attack at both ends. You’re under attack in terms of somebody’s already stolen a third or half of my eyeball time away from you, in my instance, and it multiplies. Increasingly, if I were to look for something in the classified section, I’d probably go to one of the auction sites. And my tolerance for commercial messages is being stretched by those annoying Internet ads on top. You have a problem two ways. The way you get people in the tent is being attacked, and what you have inside the tent is being attacked.
You kind of set me up with your first question. You’re where Intel was three years before the roof fell in on us. You’re heading toward a strategic inflection point, and three years from now, maybe, it’s going to be obvious. Things like newsprint giving you a little bit of a lift, a little bit of a hand, are going to run their course. You’re going to be in a profit squeeze, and it’s going to be a very, very difficult time, more difficult to adjust later. All of this sets up what to do. You have to ask what your microprocessor is in the Intel analogy. What is it that you can do for me as a reader that the Web pages or online coverage can’t do? I indicated what my preference is. I’m looking for depth. I’m looking for interpretation, and please don’t give me length instead of depth. A lot of magazine coverage does that. They think they’re deep when they give you a six-page article, and they’re just long.
From a publisher’s standpoint, there’s going to be huge push and pull. This requires more money at a time when margins are going to be under attack. Interpretation requires time and requires research and requires feet on the street, people on the phones calling, studying, going to the library, probably at a time when you’re financially being pulled in the other direction. And my history of the technology industry is you cannot save yourself out of a strategic inflection point. You can save yourself deeper into the morass that you’re heading to, but you can only invest your way out of it, and I really wonder how many people who are in charge of the business processes of journalism understand that.
tl;dr; He told them they had 3 years to change or die.

Note that Andy gave this speech before Craigslist was around and killed the rest of their classified business

After the talk Andy said he got into an argument with the editor of the NY Times who said he was wrong and way too alarmist. In June 2002, 3 years after the speech the NY Times stock hit an all time high 51.50 today is <$10 and the NY Times is losing money.

I doubt there is a newspaper or business magazine that has not written something about how the railroads almost went bankrupt cause they thought they were in the railroad business and not in the transportation business.

Yet somehow very few newspapers ever figured out they weren't in the newspaper business, but rather in the information, gathering, packaging and delivery business.
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:52 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by braumeister
All good comments.
What bothers me is that since the paper has become such a pale shadow of what it used to be (which wasn't much), the cost per issue just isn't worth it to us any more.

The online edition will be available for a smaller subscription fee, and we will certainly subscribe to that.

I have found over the past year or two that reading magazines and books on the iPad is actually very pleasant, so I'm sure I'll quickly get used to reading the newspaper that way too.
I wish I had your adaptability, Braumeister. Unfortunately I may be too much like the newsprint industry....unable to adapt. I get the online edition free with my paid print version, and I have never even attempted to use it. I have a couple print magazine subscriptions that offer the free download IPad edition. About a year ago, I put them on, and looked at the first one, but I haven't accessed them since. Just wait for the hard copy to come in the mail. I am sure they are slowly trying to wean the old dinosaurs like me off paper, and get me used to paying for electronic magazines instead of mailed ones. I don't know if that will be possible.
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Old 09-18-2012, 08:10 AM   #14
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....

In March 1999, my friend, who was the technical assistant to Andy Grove, Intel's legendary CEO, asked me to help him out with a speech that Andy delivering to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The ASNE conference had the editors from pretty much every newspaper. I managed to find a transcript but not the Powerpoint. ...

Thanks for posting that clifp, really insightful. This line I really relate to.

Quote:
I’m looking for depth. I’m looking for interpretation, and please don’t give me length instead of depth. A lot of magazine coverage does that. They think they’re deep when they give you a six-page article, and they’re just long.
We still subscribe to the Chicago Trib and one local paper. The Trib just shrinks and shrinks in size and quality over time. They just announced that they will drop the TV section, but you can pay separately to get it. Right. I'm close to dropping it, the few articles that interest me are so poorly written, I just end up screaming. What happened to who, what, where, when and why?

And as in that quote, they occasionally do an 'in-depth' feature, and I'm ready to sit down for some real journalism, and all we get is 'length', same stuff repeated 6 different ways, while key points are missing.

We need journalism, I don't feel the newspapers are delivering it.

-ERD50
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Old 09-18-2012, 10:28 AM   #15
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I wish I had your adaptability, Braumeister. Unfortunately I may be too much like the newsprint industry....unable to adapt. I get the online edition free with my paid print version, and I have never even attempted to use it.
FWIW, I would suggest you ease into it the way I did.

First, download a couple of books (preferably light fiction). Set the font size to something big and comfortable to read. Then just sit down and begin reading. If the book is enjoyable, the experience will gradually become enjoyable too.

Once you've gotten that far, try it with a magazine. The only difference is that now you'll have to be aware of the navigation controls, so you can move easily between articles and sections. Takes a bit of getting used to, but not difficult.

Final step is a newspaper, where you add the final step of getting through it fairly quickly without missing anything you might be interested in. I've been using the iPad version of the Wall St. Journal for quite a while. It was a bit tricky at first, but the app has improved immensely and now I think it's great.
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Old 09-18-2012, 10:32 AM   #16
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Big changes have definitely happened in the print industry. My dad was the night manager of the San Antonio Express News for several decades. They started downsizing more than a decade ago and he was 'bought out'. When he left there were hundreds of employees, now there are a handful and the paper isn't even printed in town anymore.

Definitely going the way of the milkman.
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Old 09-18-2012, 10:51 AM   #17
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I've decided that newspapers are simply not content to die peacefully; they are now beginning to commit suicide.

For the first time, I understand all the comments I've seen here from people dropping their print subscriptions. It's just amazing that the newspaper management can't change their paradigm.
What exactly would you have them do? Pretty hard to sell an abacus or a slide rule in a calculator world...

We haven't taken a newspaper in more than 10 years, not only for all the reasons given here (internet & TV) but because it's a horrifically wasteful use of resources (paper, ink, transportation costs). YMMV

But my 90 yo parents are like many here, they'll buy and read the paper no matter what and their town is down from 3 to 1 paper.


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Old 09-18-2012, 11:18 AM   #18
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What exactly would you have them do? Pretty hard to sell an abacus or a slide rule in a calculator world...

We haven't taken a newspaper in more than 10 years, not only for all the reasons given here (internet & TV) but because it's a horrifically wasteful use of resources (paper, ink, transportation costs). YMMV
I recall an interview a couple of years ago, I think with the managing editor of Newsweek. He said the business model was failing. When asked what a successful business model was for a magazine or newspaper, his response was The Economist. Subscription revenue instead of ad revenue along with top notch content.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:56 AM   #19
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&bull;The Wall Street Journal 2,118,315 (1,566,027 print and 552,288 digital)
&bull;USA TODAY 1,817,446 (1,701,777 print and 115,669 digital)
&bull;The New York Times 1,586,757 (779,731 print and 807,026 digital)

These are the top three. I found it interesting the Times had more digital, than print. I don't know which one is more profitable, but I imagine USA Today is less, as over 90% is still print. There are a lot of them left over at the newsstand each day, which surely causes wasted money. You can't say that about digital copies, that's for sure.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:58 AM   #20
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I recall an interview a couple of years ago, I think with the managing editor of Newsweek. He said the business model was failing. When asked what a successful business model was for a magazine or newspaper, his response was The Economist. Subscription revenue instead of ad revenue along with top notch content.
Both The Economist and the WSJ have done extremely well for themselves. Top notch content is the key, of course. They both have plenty of ads, but also hefty subscription prices, which I am happy to pay. Content is king.
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