With print journalism becoming less profitable, what will happen to the future of journalism?
The future holds many things. Virtual reality. Fast food served by AI. The next generation of iPhones. But of the many things that the future holds, the one thing that likely will not be among them is print newspaper.
The amount of newspaper revenue in the United States has decreased dramatically within the past decade by nearly $30 billion USD. In 2012, it is as low as it has ever been since 1950. The time when print newspaper was first experiencing its dramatic decline was around the same time that receiving news online became popularized, with the New York Times’ website expanding greatly during this time, the launch of Huffington Post as well as the Guardian. In the above graph, you can see that revenue plummeted after the introduction of news being published on the web.
And while publishing news on the web allows for anyone and everyone to access the news for free, the price of accessing news has now been devalued. After all, once something becomes accessible to everyone, it becomes devalued in the market.
Even I don’t read the newspaper unless it is given to me for free. The way that I personally get the news is through social media, websites and newspapers delivered to my door, which are also free.
While the revenue that online news sites generates is growing steadily, it is tiny in comparison with the revenue generated by print. This may be due to the fact that the way revenue is generated on the web is much different than print. Instead of consumers paying a price upfront for the paper, consumers read the news on the web for free, while ad revenue is generated by views and clicks instead.
Another way that news sites generate revenue is through putting paywalls on their site. Paywalls allow subscribers to access more of their site, read more content and likely browse ad free. Every site’s paywall is different. The New York Times is famous for its success with implementing paywalls, with over a million digital subscribers. While it allows users to access 10 articles for free, it eventually stops you and asks for a $1 contribution every week. After four weeks, the price increases to $5.50 a week, depending on how much access you are granted. And while the New York Times is successful in implementing its paywall, it is one of the few news sites who actually succeed, as it is already such a huge player in the industry.
For example, the Toronto Star’s attempt at implementing a paywall failed and was cancelled in April 1, 2015. Their explanation for their decision was that they received “extensive input from our readers and our advertisers.” It would appear that the Toronto Star simply did not have the right audience.
“[T]he media industry in general … is starting to look like a barbell: If you are large and have a powerful brand name and global scale, the way that publishers like the New York Times and The Guardian do, you will probably be fine, eventually. And if you are a tiny, focused publisher who commands a topic niche or a geographical niche, you can probably also do well. Between those two lies the valley of death.”
– Matthew Ingram from Fortune on the New York Times paywall
Times are changing, and today’s consumers are not all that willing to pay for newspapers anymore. And if today’s consumers aren’t going to pay for them – what will tomorrow’s consumers do?