Newspapers: Vanishing faster than you think

Philip Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, in AJR:

“The town crier’s audience was limited to the number of people who could be assembled within the range of an unamplified human voice. Printing changed everything. It made the size of the audience theoretically limitless and, by the creation of multiple records, enabled more reliable preservation of knowledge.

The Internet wrecks the old newspaper business model in two ways. It moves information with zero variable cost, which means it has no barriers to growth, unlike a newspaper, which has to pay for paper, ink and transportation in direct proportion to the number of copies produced.

And the Internet’s entry costs are low. Anyone with a computer can become a publisher, as Matt Drudge demonstrated when he broke the Monica Lewinsky story in 1998 and countless bloggers have shown in the decade since. These cost advantages make it feasible to make a business out of highly specialized information, a trend that was under way well before the Internet.”

These are the basics, the givens, of the post-industrial knowledge economy:

  1. There is no mass audience.
  2. There is no barrier to publication.
  3. The cost of operating legacy organizations increases indefinitely as profit decreases indefinitely.
  4. There is nothing cyclical about this change.

Rinse, repeat, rethink.

3 Replies to “Newspapers: Vanishing faster than you think”

  1. I wouldn’t say that the online medium has no variable cost. Bandwidth does cost money, as does space. Bloggers can utilize various free services for their medium, but professional newspapers that require more functionality/control will need to invest in server space, processing power, and bandwidth. The larger the audience, the greater the scalability requirements must be. Look at the Slashdot effect; Linkage from the front page of Slashdot can bring entire websites to their knees – either by exceeding bandwidth limits, or by overloading the server hosting the machine to the point of having the account locked down (assuming a 3rd party hosting provider – hosting your own server means you may get to literally put out the flames of your smoldering server(s)).

    Some providers tout “unlimited” bandwidth, which while beautiful, is rarely really all its cracked up to be. Either there is an invisible cap, or the reliability of the servers is enough to make the unlimited bandwidth not even close to worthwhile. I’ve never seen cheap or free bandwidth come without a serious cut elsewhere.

    Hate to be a downer, of course šŸ™‚ I love the online medium. To say that there is no variable cost, however, would be a bit of a stretch. I myself have been hit with enough traffic spikes to know this first hand.

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