“I’m a newspaper junkie. Will they survive?” Simon Dingley asked us on Twitter. “I hope we don’t turn into Detroit where the paper is only available online some days.” James Bradshaw, The Globe’s media reporter offers his best prediction:
Bad luck, Simon – our crystal ball is on the fritz, and our backup Magic 8-Ball keeps turning up “Ask again later.” But let’s see what we can divine from the constellation of forces reshaping a centuries-old print business.
Will newspapers survive? Yes. (Though admittedly, as a newspaper reporter I may be predisposed to believe that). How many, for how long, and to what degree they will continue to resemble what lands on your doorstep each morning are all questions that are harder to answer.
Despite widespread uncertainty and a digital shift that is wrenching newspapers into a new era, there are some encouraging signs for a print junkie. Take The Globe and Mail’s own printing contract with Transcontinental Inc., worth $1.7-billion and good through 2028: The Globe plans to be in print for some time. Publisher and CEO Phillip Crawley told an audience at an industry event early this year, “I would expect to [still] print the Globe six days a week in ten years’ time.”
If you follow the money, you might also find some short-term comfort. One example: At Postmedia Network Canada Corp., which owns the National Post, Calgary Herald and Montreal Gazette among other papers, slightly more than 50 per cent of total revenue came from print advertising in the company’s last quarter. Digital revenue accounted for just 13.8 per cent. For now, print still pays the bills at many publications.
Yet that gap is narrowing by the month, with print ad revenue at some newspapers falling by upwards of 20 per cent year over year. Reader trends are undeniably pushing newspapers to build on their digital offerings, and in a time of shrunken budgets, that cannot help but pull resources away from print production. The American Society of News Editors estimates that U.S. daily newspapers shed some 20,000 jobs over the last decade. Some new jobs have been created in recent years, but research suggests most are digitally focused.
La Presse, the French-language daily owned by a subsidiary of Power Corp. of Canada, is out on a digital limb, all but promising readers its print edition will vanish in the coming years. Last summer, an executive at the newspaper predicted that day will be “before 2020.”
Instead, La Presse has been trying to shift its readership to a tablet edition, produced six days a week and free to download, which offers an experience much more like reading a print newspaper than most news websites. The Toronto Star is partnering with La Presse to build a similar tablet edition, and at launch, the Star will abandon its experiment in making readers pay for online news.
What seems clear is that news outlets will go where people will read their journalism, especially if those audiences will shell out a few dollars to do so. Increasingly that means online, particularly on mobile phones and tablets. Scores of print papers still deliver to devoted subscribers, but bankrupted Detroit isn’t the only place where some are struggling to sustain that: The National Post stopped publishing print editions on summer Mondays years ago.
This week, the Orange County Register – a daily in California – made headlines for a cost-saving gambit that asked reporters and other employees to volunteer to wake before dawn and help deliver the paper, and to answer calls from readers with delivery problems. (They were paid for their trouble, sometimes in gift cards, according to a story in The New York Times).
Whether that’s a canary in the coal mine, a testament to the industry’s determination to get a newspaper to your door, or a mixture of both is up to you to decide.
Shameless plug: If you love newspapers and would like to see them stick around, might we suggest a subscription?