The Seattle Post Intelligencer announced today the end of their print edition. This continues the decline of print newspapers that many people believe is tied to fewer people reading print papers. While it is probably and provable true that fewer people read print newspapers, that is a red-herring as to why newspapers get smaller each day and some become “invisible” such as the 150 year old Denver paper that ceased altogether or the Seattle paper that is now on-line only.
The real reason newspapers are shrinking is the decline of advertising which has declined MUCH faster than the decline in readership. Why is that? Because too many people believe that “half the money they spend on advertising is wasted.” Newspapers having had a local monopoly for all practical purposes have (like the Yellow Pages) resisted any attempt to help their advertising customers make sure the paper provided value for the advertising dollar invested.
As advertisers found that they could buy “local” ads via the Internet and that many Internet models have trackability and accountability built in. This compares to what many advertisers found to be a “hope” based advertising model offered by the newspaper. They skewed local ads to the Internet and reduced ads placed in the newspaper. This reduced advertising creates a spiral of death for the paper because, as ads drop, content drops, which reduces the value of the paper to the remaining readers who then defect and the paper’s relevancy becomes less and less.
What’s the solution? My belief is that newspapers need to demonstrate value and prove it. Since they have unsold space maybe its time (way past time) that they offer advertisers some form of contingency based (pay per click anyone) fee structure. If the ad “works” the paper makes money. If the ad does not work, the advertiser needs to change the ad, or lose the space, or pay more for it. (Google pay per click positioning model anyone?)
There are still millions of people who prefer to read a local paper physically. However, lack of advertisers is the problem not lack of readers. It’s time newspapers recognize that advertisers still advertise, they are just less likely to hope they don’t waste half their money.