Newspapers are even deader than you think

Kindle with image of dinosaur skeleton

One of the podcasts I like a lot is a technical, industry-related one: InDesign Secrets, hosted by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción. He’s a renowned author, educator and expert on desktop publishing and, in particular, Adobe InDesign. She’s a world-class Adobe software trainer with special expertise in Adobe Acrobat and InCopy, the word processor that links to Adobe InDesign in publishing environments (which we’ve implemented for some of our clients).

This week, they did an interview with Russell Viers that anyone interested in the future of newspapers (or lack thereof) should check out. Viers is also an InDesign trainer, but he specializes in newspaper publication. And he sees a scenario where even the smaller, local papers — who, until now, have been doing just fine where big city dailies have struggled — will be out of the print publishing business by the end of this decade.

It’s not for lack of interest from subscribers or advertisers. Instead, it’s because of unsustainable printing and distribution costs driven by the more imminent departure of papers like the Chicago Sun-Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and so on.

One analyst says that, if the New York Times stopped printing right now and went solely to electronic distribution, they could afford to give every single subscriber four Amazon Kindles for free. Viers thinks that assumption is probably off, but that the principle is correct. Newspapers have permitted non-newspaper, web-based innovators to decimate their business model. They allowed Craig’s List to steal their classified ad revenue. They allowed Yelp! to steal their restaurant guides. They allowed Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes to steal their entertainment advertisers. Groupon and Living Social are trashing their Sunday coupon business. And so on. Without massive innovation, the newspaper business is headed over a cliff.

Viers is opinionated, sure, but also knowledgeable. Want to hear more? You can download the interview here or on iTunes (search for InDesign Secrets) and listen for yourself.

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6 Comments

  1. Josh–The real question for anyone who doesn’t own stock in a newspaper isn’t the future of the newspaper business but the future of “serious journalism.” I put it in quotes because it’s not universally accepted as such but it will be a loss if scandal sheets and partisan rants become universal but they are the historic norm.

    1. I absolutely agree with you, and I think it goes far beyond the newspaper problem. We have to find more outlets for thoughtful, well-reported, long-form investigative journalism. They’re not gone, but reading an article on a computer screen is much more tiring than reading it on paper. Maybe the iPad, Kindle, etc will create a new norm that will still allow it. They work pretty well for books — at least for text-based books. And Flipboard, Pulse, etc. seem to encourage depth if you want it. Unlike, say, The Daily.

  2. I read the NY Times and others on screen. I’d rather not deal with a paper paper. The interesting problem is financing the reporting and analysis that now comes from a few newspapers.

  3. Well, I guess if the new NYT subscription model actually works for them, then they’ll have enough money to finance good reporting. If not, we’d all better come up with Plan B or let Rupert Murdoch decide what information we have access to.

  4. Hi Josh –
    A lot of that is true though I think the “deadest” part might be the paper. Granted, most of our “news” comes to us via the internet, television and radio but I’m encouraged by the increasing quality of bloggers (apparently, some of the LA Times blogs are doing quite well – and the Huffington Post couldn’t have done it without them). The loss of central repositories for news makes individuals more responsible for searching out what is of interest to them – which may make us “smarter” in some ways and less prone to the influence of a singular vehicle as in the past. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

    1. I think it makes the smart ones smarter. But I’d question whether anything that takes more work for a population that seems generally fairly apathetic is anything to rely on. Maybe the secret is in the curated aggregators like HuffPo who can do some of that culling for their readers. That’s pretty much what a good editorial staff does for a newspaper, but the web guys cast a wider net. And, of course, don’t pay anybody. 🙂

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