Tuesday, 3 March 2009

What will really murder newspapers

Newspapers are already a death foretold. The only thing missing is the date to carve into the headstone.

Editors and owners belatedly woke up to the fact that they had problems going-forward* when they found that youngsters were not buying and reading papers at the same rate as, well, us.

Those that decided to forecast the death of papers at that point decided that papers would go into a long, slow decline, shedding readership in tiny chunks as their oldest readers died off and were not replaced at the same rate by younger readers - who are all masturbating in front of YouTube or exchanging indecipherable gibberish on their blip-phones. They have more engaging activities to activaterise themselves in than staring at dead trees and still pictures for half an hour.

Boring.

I think however that the powers-that-be in newspaperland have misread the ideas behind diffusion - innovators, early adopters, laggards and so on. Youngsters are viewed as being the innovators in this space, with innovation in this context being all bad. They have reconfigured their lives in such a way that a newspaper is not part of it.

Newspaper editors have been gambling that the rot will simply stop there. Youngsters will take up new technology like i-Phones and twitter and so forth, but old dogs like me will continue to take their daily paper out of sheer force of habit. People who have subscribed for 20 years are unlikely to give up now.

If that's the way they have been strategising, then I have a brain dump that they won't like.

My parents used to read so many papers each day, they had to read them at the dining table (which seats 14) because the smaller kitchen table (where they breakfast) was not sufficient to hold such a volume of newsprint. At the office, Dad would regularly churn through a copy of every major daily paper that this country had to offer.

They are paper-holics. They absorb information like sponges. You could say that they have massive bandwidth for this sort of thing.

They are now down to one daily paper, and are thinking of dropping that. Mum likes to wrap her kitchen rubbish in newspaper, so if she can kick that habit, she can kick the paper. Their paradigm shift is that they've moved almost completely online, and they are in their 80's.

Call them a canary in a coalmine if you like, but I think more than just the yoof are ditching the habit of the daily dead tree. Let me forecast that declines amongst private buyers will be much faster than expected, whilst government departments and companies will continue to keep buying papers long after their employees have stopped reading them.

Here's something I have noticed.

Five years ago, if you picked up a paper at work that the company had paid for, it was pretty dog-eared by the time I got it: many people had read it before me. It had gone through lots of hands, and been badly folded back into shape after each reading.

Nowadays, I pick up a paper as I am leaving work, and it is pristine. It is rare to see an open paper at lunch, or even at the desk of someone loafing.

Drill down on that.


* I am trying to see how many wanky terms I can fit into this post.

5 comments:

Ubique of Perth said...

The Australian's circulation is holding up well, which shows not all is lost.

It's the Fairfax press, led by the Spencer Street Soviet, that's rapidly headed for oblivion. The Fairfax journos, even at the Financial Review for God's sake, are so far out of touch with the general population it's not funny.

At the time the Fairfax press finally got its wish when we lost John Howard, the Fairfax share price was $5.00. Since the boy who lived in a car took over, FXJ has plumetted like a stone to today's $0.87. Anyone who bought FXJ to celebrate KRudd & Co's victory wouldn't have been on a high for long.

With other Fairfax papers soon bound to follow The Age in mass sackings, the trouble for Fairfax journos (Miranda Divine and a handful of others excepted) is the Green Left Weekly, the ABC and SBS just aren't big enough to take them all in....

Still, not all is lost; I hear that Domino's has lots of positions going for pizza delivery boys and girls.

wreckage said...

It's rare to get higher quality analysis out of a newspaper than a blog these days. I would buy papers if they weren't offering nothing but crap. I can get unlimited crap for free.

My subscription to The Economist will be next to go; over the last five years the quality of their journalism has declined markedly: most recently they ran a massive special article that started by (and based itself upon) failing to understand that the cuss-word "liberal" as used by Americans does NOT mean a classical liberal at all.

If you can run a massive special report based on a simple misunderstanding of a colloquialism you're an idiot and I won't pay to read your crap.

Boy on a bike said...

I dumped my Economist subscription when it fell due a few months back. It used to be a great read - now it is rubbish. Over the weekend, I threw 6 months worth of unopened Economists in the bin - it had gotten to the point where I wasn't even bothering to unwrap them anymore.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

ntk said...

With other Fairfax papers soon bound to follow The Age in mass sackings, the trouble for Fairfax journos (Miranda Divine and a handful of others excepted) is the Green Left Weekly, the ABC and SBS just aren't big enough to take them all in....

Fairfax's circulation was holding up okay last I checked, but rolling over that debt is going to be a hassle. Or at least, I hope it's going to be a hassle. You know, I was looking through Facebook the other day and I found a cause there titled Don't Let Newspapers Die. And I was thinking, er, why not?

The GLW was going broke a few years ago, what happened? I'm guessing they're still around? I went to the same university as BOAB, and when I started there, seeing reeky hippies selling the GLW was a weekly occurrence (at the end of the library, near the stairs, usually). By the time I finished, I hadn't seen them in years.

As for the Economist, it's not targeted at economists. It's a journal of left-wing Euro-elitist political economy targeted at people who have a passing interest in economics. When I was at university, I studied at that university's abysmally bad economics department, and in first and second year they used to prescribe articles from the Economist as tutorial readings. The bias was plainly obvious back then.

I've read that sort of sentiment before: people turning off the Economist because of its obvious slant and selective reporting. I'm not surprised in the slightest. Time magazine underwent a similar process about ten years before the Economist, as I noticed.

Boy on a bike said...

"As for the Economist, it's not targeted at economists. It's a journal of left-wing Euro-elitist political economy targeted at people who have a passing interest in economics."

That's as good a description as I have ever read.

As for not letting newspapers die, do we weep that we have jet aircraft (such as the 747) to fly to Europe in rather than say Sunderland flying boats? Geez, these people need to move on.