Newspaper Survival

February 20, 2007

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In one of my first posts on this blog called Stacking the Deck, I talked about how the loss of classified revenues was hurting newspapers. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal talks more broadly about the business challenges facing newspapers.

The Washington Post, a model of journalistic excellence, has lost 14% of its circulation since 2000. Across the industry, circulation has been dropping for 20 years, and worse, the pace of decline seems to be accelerating. In the 12 months ending in September of last year, the 50 largest papers lost 3.2% of their daily circulation.

Next, the loss of advertising revenue is tackled.

But for newspapers, the challenges are mounting, including advertisers fleeing not only to follow lost readers but also because they believe that newer forms of media can be both more cost-effective and just plain more effective. For example, classified ads, which can represent a third of a typical newspaper’s revenue, can be delivered online faster (instantaneous), more conveniently (searchable) and cheaper (sometimes free via Craigslist). Not much imagination or boldness is required to predict that classifieds could completely disappear from newspapers.

And one of the proposed solutions is turning newspapers into not-for-profit organizations.

Not-for-profit status might be one possibility. Instead of having billionaire moguls as proprietors, we could try to turn them into philanthropists who found nonprofit organizations to buy and operate their local papers.

Eeeeeeeek. Not exactly a vote of confidence is it.

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