This piece in today’s NY Times discusses falling circulation numbers at most US newspapers. The average overall decline was 2.4%. There are a couple of exceptions, including Gannett’s USAToday, which has the largest daily circulation in the US, and was up 1%. However, on the good news side, the industry saw a 3.7 increase in its total Internet audience (per Nielsen) in Q3. The NAA now says that newspapers online reach 59 million Americans or almost 40% of the “active Internet audience.”
This is very much the same story as print yellow pages at a high level. And more broadly it reflects the fragmentation of audiences plaguing traditional media more generally. The Writers Guild strike in Hollywood is a by-product at some level of structural changes going on in television and the economics of film and film distribution, partly under pressure from the Internet.
As I wrote previously, the top two reasons typically given in a big Harris international newspaper readership survey for why people aren’t reading print newspapers as much were:
- “Lack of time to read the newspaper”
- “Easier to go online for news and information”
The problem is that newspapers have to think very differently about their online products and strategies than they do about print. That may sound self-evident but it amounts to some practical (and perhaps cultural) decisions that may set a course for a range of diversified products online that may take these companies out of familiar territory or, in some cases, out of the newspaper business entirely. Gannett and Tribune Co.’s decision to build out Metromix is such an example. Another is the NY Times’ BlogRunner. So is Scripps’ acquisition earlier this year of Recipezaar (although Scripps is spinning off its newspaper and TV affiliates business).
Then there are a host of online newspaper experiments with “hyper-local” and community. Indeed, newspapers should be creating local sites that utilize their content but operate much more like “local search” sites with community (e.g., Yelp). They can create pure local communities that operate around Q&A scenarios (e.g., Yahoo! Answers). They can create verticals round some of their content. They can operate user-generated local video sites.
They should be working with Adify to represent non-newspaper firms in their markets and create ad networks that their sales reps can sell.
And then there’s the Yahoo! consortium. Yahoo!’s APIs could help newspapers accomplish some of these things. But will it happen?
I’m not a newspaper industry insider, although I’ve worked as a freelancer and done some weekly newspaper writing. The biggest obstacle to some of the suggestions above and others that might help the newspapers online appears not to be about resources but rather internal cultural challenges.
Related: More discussion of newspaper ad network to capture national ad dollars that are being lost online. This is partly the role that Yahoo is supposed to play with the newspaper consortium.