Out Of The Ashes Of Dead Trees, Ctd

A reader writes:

There are two reasons I buy print magazines: takeoff and landing.


The only time I read physical magazines it is at the doctor or the dentist. And I will miss that. And I don't see them providing tablets, and I don't see myself bringing a tablet to the dentist or doctor.  So what are you going to do at the doctors office, talk to strangers?

Read a magazine on your phone instead. Another:

What I'd like to see come out of the Newsweek announcement is a publication that, freed from the constraints of a printing business unit, helps bring about realistic subscription rates for digital content.  Far too many of the mainstream magazines I read will charge me $20-$25 to read it on my iPad, OR will charge $12-$15 (less if it's on sale) for a print subscription, incurring expenses for printing and delivery, and then give me digital access for free.


As an industry, newspapers aren't money losers.  They're in huge decline and deep in the crapper but still profitable, just without the margins and bottom lines of old.  Their reluctance to transition to a pure digital play – to turn off the presses – is that there is no model on the digital side that will give them the same (reduced) revenues or profits.  Yes, they could eliminate all the expenses of the physical paper, but there's no advertising model online that will replace the dollars they can bring in, even now, with an ink-on-paper ad.  That's not for much longer, so they worry, but it's not going away today, so they dither.

A reader from the industry elaborates on that view:

I'm the editor of a print newspaper who finds himself defending the existence of such an anachronistic thing to people all the time. It's difficult, because for all the reasons you laid out, print needs to shift to a focus of 100 percent modern technology, but there are still reasons why it hasn't.

To answer your (completely valid) question, "Why the fuck do they exist at all, except as lingering objects of nostalgia?", I can only say that nobody I know in my business is printing newspapers and magazines out of nostalgia. I enjoy picking up the New York Times, but I don't think that enjoyment is any reason to stick with what has become a bad business model.

The problem is this: advertisers don't agree. I don't know how much of this you saw when you were editing the print magazine, but right now, advertisers don't place anywhere near as much stock in advertising online as they do in print. This is the key issue upon which the entire future of the industry is predicated. Printing and delivery costs are high, sure, but they pale in comparison to the cost of paying people to produce the news itself, and that won't go away. That means that cutting the printing+delivery piece out of the overhead isn't going to solve the problem. There needs to be more revenue online, and until advertisers see the value of 225 square pixels on a website being equal in value to three square inches in a newspaper or magazine, print will still exist in its slow, tumbling decline.


Absolutely loved your post on Newsweek's news. But I was wondering whether you are worried about online content being so driven by clicks and page views. The Huffington Post seems to be illustrative and one of the worst offenders here. Just teeming with "click bait" (typical headline: "She did WHAT?!"); short, uninformative blurbs, and pointless slideshows at the end of every article (with each click through the slideshow generating a juicy new data point). Digital is clearly the future, but I don't want my online content to be sliced and diced so as to inflate the perception of reader engagement to advertisers. 

Me neither. One more from "an old newsman who thinks newspapers deserve to die but shouldn't":

Newsweek is right to go all-digital. It was either that or die. Too bad daily newspapers will never understand Newsweek's lesson until it's too late. Except for a few super-papers like the NYT or WSJ or USA Today, most newspapers will never pull the trigger and go all or even 80 percent digital. They'll be printing on paper and shrinking their staffs and their news coverage until the last 80-year-old subscriber on the Daily Titanic dies. 

It a cultural thing – the managers of papers still don't get it. Old Newspaper hands who can't change or adapt, they still hate the Web, still don't understand it, still don't know how to exploit its awesome efficiencies and powers. They still don't trust their writers/reporters, still don't like their readers' tastes or values or judgment, hate bloggers more than they hate incessant letter-to-the-editor writers and still have a top-down, we'll-tell-you-what's-import attitude that despises the democratization of news and commentary that digital has wrought.

They won't change their reporting methods – but every reporter should have a an iPhone, a laptop and no desk at the office. They should be out in the community they are supposed to be covering, blogging and taking pictures all day for the website until a plane crashes into the nearby local school or the local oil refinery blows. Then they should report the story ASAP – beating TV and radio to the punch and going deeper and wider on the story.

Newspapers have not been perfect or even honorable, god knows. But if they die before they figure out digital, and figure out a business model that works, their communities will suffer.