By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)
Are you bored yet? It’s a truism of journalism that the media loves to talk about itself. So no subject has probably been debated as intently and as deeply as the future of the newspaper industry. Pundits far more learned than I have gone back and forth about where things went wrong (the death of traditional classified advertising, the slowness with which the industry embraced digital, free vs. paid, etc.) and every week there’s a new hot button story.
A month ago it might have been the launch of THE DAILY. This week it’s still THE NEW YORK TIMES’ pay wall and what that experiment means for the industry. Heck, we could even talk about Radiohead’s newspaper as a model for future publishing if we wanted.
But I’m going to save you a lot of time and energy and let you in on the secret that no one is talking about. Newspapers are DOOMED.
What makes me so certain? It’s not the state of journalism or how consumers get their news or even the ever problematic advertising model. It’s the paper itself.
Newspapers are printed on newsprint, a cheap and disposable type of paper that is used for printing newspapers and … what else? Pretty much nothing these days.
In past decades, numerous magazines, comic books, local circulars (remember your local version of the PENNYSAVER?), coupon books and phone books were printed on the same stock. But all that has changed. Comic books and magazines are now printed on glossy stock for the most part. Local circulars were one of the first things the Internet killed. Coupon books have been supplanted by online offers from companies like GROUPON and LIVING SOCIAL. And when was the last time you used a phone book?
So newspapers are now using a material that is only utilized by their industry. And as the numbers of newspapers decline the market shrinks even further, driving demand lower and prices higher.
Have you ever seen a roll of newsprint? They can literally weigh a ton and the costs of moving this material from mills in Canada or Norway to American presses is also getting higher every day.
And what about those presses? Printing presses are very expensive pieces of machinery to purchase and maintain (it’s not uncommon for a newspaper printing press to cost north of $500,000). For an independent printer to maintain profitability, those presses need to be running 24 hours a day. And if their only customer for a newsprint press is the local daily newspaper, then that printer better hope the paper publishes a lot of editions.
Of course, many major metropolitan papers own their own presses. But even then there are problems. After all, how many young workers are looking to learn how to maintain and operate newsprint printing presses these days (hint: it’s probably about the same number as those looking to study Commodore 64 programming)?
So, with paper and transportation costs growing ever higher, printing presses aging, and eco-consciousness among consumers growing, I can’t see any future for the newspaper. It’s on it’s way to becoming as dead a technology as eight track tapes or laser discs. Something mourned by a dedicated few and looked upon as interesting curios by younger generations with no emotional ties to a delivery vehicle composed of compressed, desiccated vegetable matter.
Personally, I think journalism has never been stronger. And that’s why I’m not shedding any tears for the antiquated delivery vehicle known as the newspaper.
After all, isn’t it the content what we really care about? Not the distribution system?