The downfall of newspapers is such an interesting topic.
It hits home for me because my father worked at the Detroit News for over 20 years. He talks all the time about how the newspaper industry screwed up when content became available online. How these publications chose not to charge much money for people to read their content, because they thought the internet was not going to blow up the way they did.
They were wrong.
By the time they recognized how things were going, it was already too late. They could not charge as much for their content as they needed to, and things went downhill from there.
I always think about this when the topic of print journalism comes up. It’s such a fascinating thing that happened. Yes, it has not worked out well for the newspapers. Another example came last month, when Gannett, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post all put forward massive layoffs. This article, by Jeremy Littau of Slate.com, gives a great insight into how newspaper companies “failed to adapt” as technology entered the picture.
Littau talks a lot about the economic side of things that many people just aren’t aware of. I was one of those people before reading this. He says that so many people jumped into the newspaper industry to start and own publications, because they were real money makers after the printing press. But these massive revenues started to drop, and “investors’ expectation of hefty profits” simply stopped coming to fruition.
Before the internet, newspapers were the source for people to receive news about their community/society, and the adverting revenue followed that “pseudo-monopoly.” With the internet, a new source of competition came in. Littau mentions that it wasn’t just that the companies gave away their content for free, like my dad always says, but that the internet eliminated their local monopoly with their local readers. They lost the connection with the community, and it became a free-for-all. With no consistency, the revenue lost its consistency as well.
It’s also a super interesting fact that between 2000 and 2008, advertising revenue for newspapers dropped 60%! That’s insane. It’s interesting how the decline was gradual for many years, and then it “fell off a cliff” around the Great Recession. He then talks about how the reaction these companies had to this trend only made things worse. The massive cutbacks to resources and staffs did not help.
“Cuts led to loss of quality, which drove away readers. Fewer readers meant fewer sales and subscriptions, which led to less ad revenue and thus more newsroom cuts.” He says Phil Meyer at the University of North Carolina called it the “death spiral of news.”
That takes us to 2019, where Gannett and other major news companies continue to fall into this death spiral. It’s not pretty, and sooner or later there’s not going to be anything else that will fall victim to this spiral. It will take away everything, and print journalism as we know it will be gone. Depressing, right?