News Business Needs New Engine

David Carr of The New York Times paints a bleak, sorely accurate, picture of the print media business today.

It’s been an especially rotten few days for people who type on deadline. On Tuesday, The Christian Science Monitor announced that, after a century, it would cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc., the Olympian home of Time magazine, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, announced that it was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. And Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, compounded the grimness by announcing it was laying off 10 percent of its work force — up to 3,000 people.
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.

The “consumer problem” Carr talks about actually sounds more like a manufacturing and distribution problem. Newspapers are funded by print ads, but increasingly they are read online.

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.

The newspaper business is vital to the economy, and to our democracy. Who is going to rescue it? Not Washington. Will readers? Or will innovators in online publishing work their way to a grand solution? One might install ticket takers at the gate. Another might make interactive ads perform. The opportunity to get it right is massive and now overdue.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.