Recently I had been looking around the Internet plus had many discussions with my friend Bob about newspapers and the newspaper business plus media in general. One of the ‘great shocks’ to me is how a number of newspaper and media companies seem to be having all kinds of problems staying profitable or even going out of business. I still find it amazing that there are a number of cities and towns in the United States that have no local newspaper!
As an example of problems newspapers are having, the local paper in my city, The Worcester Telegram, over the years has gone from where they use to have a Washington bureau, to now where the only outlying reporters are within the county and based out of the distribution offices in the towns around Worcester. Where the paper use to have its own printing presses in the main T&G building on Franklin Street, which the company no longer owns or is even based out of anymore, I am told the paper is now printed at presses located far outside of the city. Where the paper used to have its own process and systems for creating the paper, now most of the layout work is all done through a remote computer and software system that The Telegram does not own or even have on site in its offices. Where in the past the paper was completely contained in its main T&G building at 20 Franklin Street, now the paper is just a few floors in an office building after having sold off the 20 Franklin Street building years ago.
The older typical business model for a newspaper was that subscriptions were priced to typically cover the cost of delivery of the paper and the main profit for the operation was the selling of advertisements in the paper. This business model made a lot of sense since the advertising rates would be a function of how many subscribers the paper had; so by pricing subscriptions just high enough to cover the cost of delivery would get a newspaper as many subscriptions as possible. Doing that got the subscriber numbers as large as possible, then the advertising rate would be able to command the highest possible rate since the rate for advertisers would be based off of the number of subscribers.
In recent years this whole model seems to have broken down. I think part of the problem is that people are able to get news online for free, making it hard for newspapers to charge for subscriptions; a declining subscriber base would cause advertising rates to decline which would then cause more problems for any newspaper.
Another part of the problem is competition from other forms of advertising. In the past the media competing for advertising dollars were newspapers, magazines, radio, television and direct mail. Today, advertising over the Internet has taken a large part of the overall advertising market and caused all kinds of problems for all of the old line media companies.
The question today for any newspaper is this; is it possible to somehow stay with the old business model, or maybe transfer to a digital only business model where there is no more print edition of the newspaper but instead an online distribution only? While at first look an online only model would seem to work because of the lower costs of distribution but my observation over the years with magazines and other print publications that went from print editions to online only is that without a printed copy to distribute is that people simply seem to ‘forget’ that the publication is out there, subscribers drop off, and at some point the publication simply ceases to exist.
At the moment it looks like the current still surviving print publications are mostly, if not all, part of large conglomerates that look like they are trying to bring some kind of economies of scale to making and distributing print copies of newspapers and magazines. Hopefully time will tell if this attempt to use economies of scale to keep print publications going will work.
Good Luck and Take Care,
Louis J. Desy Jr.
Saturday, November 24, 2018