Transatlantic passenger ships

Mindy McAdams offers 10 simple facts about the survival of journalism.

Number 5:

“Newspapers were a nice business. Publishers could make the product insanely cheap (remember the penny press), and the advertising would cover the expenses, plus generate fantastic profits. However, this is clearly over. It’s done. It worked for a long time, but now, like trans-Atlantic leisure travel in big passengers ships, it will never work again.”

She’s encouraging us to skip over the obvious things that come up in the course of any well-meaning discussion about the future of newspapers and move on to the questions that haven’t been answered yet.

Good advice.

One note:  I’ve been thinking lately about where to draw the line between newspapers that are doing fine in the current business model (smaller community newspapers with little competition, for example) and newspapers that have already been disrupted.

I work with small newspapers every day.  In my brief experience doing so, I think the line seems to be right around 10,000 print circulation.  That can vary, of course, but most papers smaller than that are going to be insulated from some of the cataclysmic changes in the industry.

Plus — to drive the metaphor deep underwater — smaller organizations are smaller boats, easier to turn around (or at least to change direction) when compared to the hulking major metros still chugging across the water.

2 Replies to “Transatlantic passenger ships”

  1. The information about small newspapers is quite relevant, I think. Yelvington has said the same thing (although I don’t know if he’s given the same circ. number). Not to dilute my screed or anything, but it may be that this kind of newspaper will survive for a long time (if paper and petrol prices don’t kill them).

    I would offer that some of the public’s distaste for newspapers is closely tied to the years of consolidation in the business.

    The little newspapers got bigger by covering larger circulation areas. This made them less relevant and less interesting. The trend was multiplied by the “cluster” business strategy employed by several of the newspaper chains. Buying and killing off two or three or more newspapers and then making another newspaper serve all of those previously separate communities — this did a lot of damage to the integrity of the product.

    At the same time, it produced great economies of scale that enabled corporations to realize stupendous profits. For a time.

    Something like this might also happen to your cozy local coffee shop if it decides to emulate, say, Starbucks.

  2. >> I think the line seems to be right around 10,000 print circulation. That can vary, of course, but most papers smaller than that are going to be insulated from some of the cataclysmic changes in the industry.<<

    I agree to some extent. But I work with a lot of small papers, and it scares me that what will be heard out of that is not they’ll be insulated from SOME of the cataclysmic changes. What they’ll hear is “We’ll be insulated, period.”

    See things like Snedeker, L. (Feb. 1, 2007). Fact is, your average paper is just fine: The circulation crisis is
    hurting the big dailies. Media Life. http://www.medialifemagazine.com/cgi-bin/artman/exec/ view.cgi?archive=501&num=9914
    (Pardon that, but I just cut and pasted out of an academic paper on Hartsville Today I’m finishing.

    A recent study here at the Univ of SC found that more than half of a sample of weeklies didn’t even have a Web presence (and when they did, well, you can guess). But the gorilla in the weeds here is mobile. When TV towers start becoming big mother Wi-Fi antennas and people start getting iPhones and clones, a lot more of their interaction will be digital, even in rural areas (think about your farmer spending hours on the tractor who wants to catch up on his or her favorite team, or the latest ag news, or whatever as one example. They’d probably tend to move to a local digital source, too.)

    So goo point. I just hope it isn’t misheard.

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