Friday, January 16, 2009

State of play

With so much bad news in the newspaper industry these days - rare is the afternoon when I don't read about more layoffs, bankruptcies and other gut-wrenching developments - I can't help but look for silver linings. And the shiniest are in the form of statstics that land the desks of publishers of newspapers large and small in every corner of the country:

More people are reading newspapers than at any time in our history.

Let me repeat that:

More people are reading newspapers than at any time in our history.

Yes, paid circulation is down, and that's bad for a number of revenue-related reasons.

But when you combine the number of people who buy newspapers every day, add those who read "pass along" copies, then factor in the ever-increasing "unique visitors" to newspaper Websites, and you can't come to any other conclusion than that newspapers remain valuable, informative and relevant in people's lives.

So, why the long faces in our industry?

Because as fewer people buy the print product, there's less money coming in the door. And when paid circulation decreases, it limits a newspaper's ability to attract advertisers (and premium rates). Less revenue translates into less money to spend on staff and other necessary expenses, thus jobs are lost and investments are scrapped. Meanwhile, people reading the newspaper on the Website don't (yet) pay for it. And advertisers are still hard to come by. Oh, and did anyone say this is occurring in the midst of the nation's worst economic crisis in eight decades?

This imperfect storm for our industry is thus taking its toll in a well-documented way, and it's not good.

What's the answer? Find me the publisher who knows for sure and the entire industry will chip in to make him/her comfortable forever.

I'll tell you this: Communities that might have been indifferent, maybe even antagonistic, about their local newspapers sure do take notice when they're faced with the prospect of them disappearing. Look what happened the last month or so with the dailies in New Britain and Bristol, Ct., both owned by the Freeman's parent company. Even the governor got into the act in an attempt to save those newspapers from extinction when it was announced they were going to be closed. Fortunately, a buyer surfaced and the papers will live to see another inauguration and, hopefully, many more.

No longer buy or advertise in the local newspaper? Prefer to read it for free on the Internet? Remember, if the print product goes under, so does the Website. As folks in those two Connecticut cities discovered, that's an unacceptable prospect.
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