The Christian Science Monitor will cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc. is was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. The largest newspaper publisher in the country is laying off up to 3,000 people. The Los Angeles Times‘ newsroom is half the size it was just seven years ago. The 15th-largest paper in the country is reducing its editorial staff by 40 percent.
The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.
Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.
Historically, people took an interest in the daily paper about the time they bought a home. Now they are checking their BlackBerrys for alerts about mortgage rates.
“The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem,” said Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody.” “The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones.”
For readers, the drastic diminishment of print raises an obvious question: if more people are reading newspapers and magazines, why should we care whether they are printed on paper?
The answer is that paper is not just how news is delivered; it is how it is paid for.
More than 90 percent of the newspaper industry’s revenue still derives from the print product, a legacy technology that attracts fewer consumers and advertisers every single day. A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it.