Lauren Fine, Newspapers and PR Nightmares

Somewhere in the flurry of projections, punditry and perceptions about the newspaper industry there is a reality. Earlier this week, a report was issued by Merrill Lynch’s Lauren Fine saying, according to a high-level summary by Editor & Publisher, “It could take as long as 30 years for online revenue to represent at least 50% of a newspaper’s bottom line.”

Okay, so print newspapers are in trouble and classified revenues are moving online. But let’s wait a minute. Any forecast that goes beyond about four or five years is almost, by definition, irresponsible.

It’s pretty clear the Merrill Lynch forecast analysis was “casual,” described as “a back of the envelope projection” in the E&P article. And it’s while it’s clear that print ad revenues are flat-to-declining and online can’t immediately replace those revenues (for many reasons) this kind of report further depresses newspaper stocks because it contributes to a no-growth story on Wall Street. (That’s why there are rumors of some newspaper companies trying to go private.)

Over at MediaPost (reg req’d) the NAA counter spins with positive news that:

Online newspapers drew an average of 57 million visitors a month last quarter–marking a 24% increase from last year, according to a report issued Thursday by the Newspaper Association of America.

Web users also are viewing more pages and spending more time on newspapers’ sites. Last quarter, people viewed an average of 47 pages a month–up from 40 last year–and they spent almost 42 minutes a month at online newspapers, up from around 37 minutes last year.

Print newspapers aren’t going away and newspapers are starting – albeit tentatively – to take steps that will make them more competitive. They still drink their own Kool-Aid sometimes about their ongoing centrality to users’ and marketers’ activities and aspirations, despite the Internet, but at least some newspapers will emerge as very effective online. And if they get together and overcome bureaucracy and historical rivalries they can develop an effective local marketing vehicle for brands and retailers to rival search and portals.

Of course that remains to be seen. But given how fast everything is changing and how dynamic the Internet is, it’s impossible to predict what the world will look like four years from now, let alone two or three decades.

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Here’s more from PaidContent.


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