Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why you are reading this post...

A brilliant article about the plight and future of newspapers which I found (of course) on the Internet:
Nineteen-fifty marks the high point of newspaper penetration in America: 100 percent of American homes took one or more daily papers. Fifty-six years later fewer than half of American homes get one. At the current rate of decline, no homes will get any newspapers in the not-too-distant future. Morning news, once the monopoly province of newspapers (virtually all evening papers, facing competition from network news, folded in the 60s and 70s), is now overwhelmingly the province of the networks, cable, radio, and the Web. Newspaper readers (as well as broadcast-news audiences) are old and growing ever older (on an actuarial table, you can plot the newspaper's last day). There are, effectively, no new newspaper readers. Newspapers have worked best as a direct-marketing medium—introducing seller to buyer—but the Web is better and cheaper. The mainstay of newspaper profits—real-estate, auto, recruitment advertising—accounting for as much as 30 percent of them, is migrating almost entirely online. Shopping itself, that other elemental commerce connection of a newspaper ("The principle of free speech owes at least as much to department stores as to the First Amendment," notes Ken Doctor in passing), is ever more an online activity. While circulation steadily drops, and as online price competition becomes fiercer, newspapers have, nevertheless, continued to charge more for ads—a kind of pyramid scheme, which, sooner rather than later, falls in on itself. [More]
I am one of the dinosaurs, reveling in the feel of a fresh newspaper. We get the Chicago Tribune delivered by mail with (miraculously) same day delivery.

Few institutions go gently into that good night. Most die by inches, and it appears to me that newspapers will follow that pattern. But I have lost other friends on this journey - it's what being middle-aged means. And I have discovered to my surprise that the losses leave few holes.

So whether the Internet fills the void, or as the author of the article Michael Wolff suggests, newspapers become the economically non-productive status symbols of billionaires like Rupert Murdoch (much like sports teams), I see no end to the market for information delivered as honestly as possible.

Indeed, if that sector fails, no other market will be possible.

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