Thursday, August 30, 2007

NEWSPAPERS: Matt Storin -- "The game of monopoly is over"


(COMMENTING ON: "In Praise of Paper"

View Forum Post
Topic: Letters Sent to Romenesko
Date/Time: 8/23/2007 6:18:35 PM
Title: The game of Monoply is over
Posted By: Jim Romenesko

> From MATT STORIN, retired Boston Globe editor: I have often admired the press analysis of William Powers, and in his piece, "In Praise of Paper," I find myself in agreement on his major points. But it's what he didn't say that leads me to dissent.

First, the areas of agreement: yes, journalists are alarmists; yes, paper is not dying (in fact I am sure paper will make fine books for many a decade yet); yes, quality sells, by which I take it he means quality journalism, and, yes, there is "irrational exuberance" in this discussion. But here are the points I think he ignores or misses. It takes lots of money to finance the quality journalism of the type he mentions, i.e. The New York Times, The Washington Post etc. Ask Bill Keller or Len Downie what it costs each month to keep their operations going in Iraq.

For the past 50 years or so, newspapers have been virtual monopolies in their markets, despite TV and radio. They owned powerful, hugely expensive printing presses and distribution infrastructure that no local competitor could afford. For that reason the newspaper was the dominant medium for both serious news and content-heavy advertising, particularly classifieds. Also, along with magazines, they were a natural for advertising aimed at high demographic readerships.

Today, for the price of a designer and a webmaster, you can have your own website. You too can sell ads. And if your business is classifieds, you have a medium that is made for the message. Hence,, Google and others have not just nibbled at the profits of some papers, they've nearly devoured them.

Yes, quality journalism sells, but what Mr. Powers doesn.t seem to realize is that historically at larger newspapers in particular, circulation revenues barely covered the costs of paper and distribution. The profits that finance quality journalism come from advertising. And that's where the decline of newspapers is being felt most acutely, even as circulation also ebbs, because young readers especially, are getting information online. And whereas they used to go to a newspaper to look up a batting average, a film time, or a stock price, today they can go to one of those websites that might possibly be owned by a newspaper company, but often will not be. Information of all kinds that once was best served up by newspapers is now available, free, at millions of other venues. And many of those take at least a bit of the advertising dollar. And even if a newspaper-owned site grabs some eyeballs, the ad revenue is just a fraction of what the market-dominant print product used to !

Many papers are fighting hard and creatively to save their franchises. And hopefully they will succeed. But it is hard to see how it will ever be the same. The game of Monopoly is over. Anyone analyzing the future of print journalism has to recognize this.


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