How much longer will newspapers last?

Consider this from Andrew Grant-Adamson:

At this time of year I ask new students about their primary sources of news — where they normally look first. Is it radio, TV, newspapers or the web? Over the years the web has grown to be the first choice but last week newspapers did not feature at all among a group of around 20 students. It is the first time that has happened, not one hand went up.

I tend to be amazed by newspaper journalists who still seem to think they have a job for life — “newspapers won’t die in my lifetime.”

You may conclude, like Andrew’s students, that newspapers will live until the last reader dies, but business economics doesn’t work like that. At some point, it is no longer economically viable to keep a dying business alive — and that point is long before you lose all of your customers.

Let’s say you operate a 250K circ paper, and you lose 10,000 subscribers in a year, you might be able to sustain that lose and keep advertisers, but what about 20K, or 30K or 50K … in one year, or 50K or more over two years.

At some point, the slide becomes impossible to stem and advertisers won’t be happy.

I don’t care who owns the newspaper — a publicly traded company, a family, a non-profit — a newspaper that can’t turn a profit has no future.

Right now, profit margins are slipping but still potentially acceptable, and maybe at some point, the slide stops, but I wouldn’t count on it.

If your core customers are dying and you’re not creating new ones, how do you stay in business?

I’m not predicting that newspapers will die — I love newspapers (though I no longer regularly read any paper), and hope they’re always around, but it just seems insane to me that if you’re journalist that you organize your work day around putting out a print product. You should organize around the web and squeeze in enough time to keep the print product alive. The future is almost certainly digital. If we don’t figure out how to make money online (which begins with audience growth), then the future of quality journalism is in doubt.

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