The Last Days of Paper

Post by blogger | February 27, 2009      

It died today. The Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado published their last issue this morning.

Backcountry Skiing

Newspapers back in 1987 were the only way most people got current details about things such as avalanche accidents. This article in the Rocky Mountain News covered a 1987 tragedy near Breckenridge, Colorado.

What’s that got to do with backcountry skiing? Some of you younger guys might not even remember when newspapers (and to some extent magazines) used to be the only way we got details about current events, including backcountry accidents, travel reports and snowpack trends. That of course changed radically in the last fifteen or so years, as the internet took over more and more such duties.

Now advertisers realize that web publishers are viable and well trafficked, and they’re willing to support those of us who get visited (Every day we here at HQ are thankful that includes WildSnow…)

At the same time, spending on newspaper advertising fell almost 10% in 2007, than dropped another 17% in 2008! As they say, follow the money.

Prior to our current economic woes, analysts were saying we’d see a DOUBLING in web advertising spend by 2011! Now they’ve dialed back that jaw dropping bit of fortune telling and say we’ll still see advertising dollars shifting to the web, only at a slower rate. Still, growth is growth. As little as 5% a year is probably all WildSnow needs to remain successful.

Thus, I truly believe that today’s event of the “Rocky” closing down is a portent of where publishing is going. It stomps home the point that web publishers don’t have to buy ink and paper, so we have an inherent advantage. More, the closing of the Rocky shows that people simply find newspapers less and less important to their daily existence — again, because the web provides what newspapers used to have a monopoly on.

Sort of.

The downside to all this is that publishing and associated revenue is becoming fragmented. Instead of one or two newspapers with a hard working staff, supported by an organized approach to news gathering and relatively strong ethics (compared to the web, anyway), you now have the choice of dozens or even hundreds of websites competing for your attention on subjects such as skiing. Pick a more mainstream topic, and your choices become astronomical, (e.g., 74,100,000 Google hits for a search on “movie reviews.”)

Thus, the trick is now how people decide where on the web to get their info. My theory is that the “magazine” style website will easily take the place of paper newspapers, and may provide the vital function of a trusted and human edited “news aggregator” with some modicum of focus — as opposed to efforts such as Google News (which does amazingly well, though somewhat scattered and still dependent on authority websites). Perhaps the Rocky will do that with their website. Or perhaps automated news aggregators will just pluck headlines from ten million blogs, and that’ll be the news of the future?

Your comments?



14 Responses to “The Last Days of Paper”

  1. Dongshow February 27th, 2009 10:26 am

    The death of the newspapers was inevitable, the subscription costs doesn’t even cover the printing, essentially people were paying for adds to be delivered to their doorstep. I do feel sorry for all the reporters and columnists that are out of a job, but the truth is modern technology (email, cell phones, quicker transportation) has made doing their jobs easier and more efficient, and therefore easier to replace. It’s no different from what’s been taking place in other industries. I think the internet can fill the void without a hitch, people will find sources they trust (ones that haven’t let them down) and the bigger newspapers will have the opportunity to become more national brands online as their competition is decimated.

  2. ScottN February 27th, 2009 10:59 am

    Yeah, its funny, I wouldn’t read the Aspen Times nor the Aspen Daily News if they were not free. They must get quite a bit of ad revenue to keep them free to valley residents around here. I hope they don’t go under too, as I really don’t want to start carrying a laptop to jobsites just to get my lunchtime reading in. But it all makes sense, why would I subscribe to one paper, when I can get online and go to a plethora of news websites to get information I need? You can’t compete with that. Good place for you to be right now Lou.

  3. AndyW February 27th, 2009 10:59 am

    Obviously I’ve got a vested interest in this, but I think it’s very wrong to say the Internet can do this without a hitch.

    Google doesn’t employ any reporters in Carbondale. Yahoo wasn’t at your city council meeting. The AP will not pick up the slack.

    The Internet is fabulous at consolidating niche audiences into a wide framework. TGR or Telemark Tips are great examples. But it’s terrible at connecting a wide audience in a real-world niche, like a city.

    That is to say, no one has found a good way to provide local information. Not even ads (Craigslist gives it away, which isn’t much of a business model).

    If instead of a world-wide audience of ski touring fanatics, Lou had to make a living just talking to people in his town (or Pitkin County or whatever), that would be very, very hard to do. No one I’m aware of is providing local news solely online without some major subsidies.

    People blog and Twitter for free, but only about the things they’re passionate about. And that’s very rarely utility board meetings or police corruption or sales tax data. You have to pay somebody to stay on top of that stuff.

    Television and radio news are both facing the same pressures newspapers are. Those news sources won’t last much longer than the printed paper.

    I’m sure once the traditional news sources disappear, something will emerge to replace them. Could be nonprofit, could be supported with hefty subscriptions, could be supported by parties with a vested interest (like political parties). But don’t think the Internet will simply step in and replace what we’re losing.

  4. Lou February 27th, 2009 11:10 am

    Scott, you won’t (don’t) need a laptop. For example, Wildsnow is already published in a mobile version that reads fine on any PDA type phone, and probably even reads fine on a smaller screen if your eyesight is good. I can read WildSnow while I’m walking down the street, and you’d just think I was looking at the calls on my cell phone. Works great for jobsites (grin).

  5. ScottN February 27th, 2009 11:19 am

    Yeah, guess I’ll start shopping for a PDA. Good points AndyW. Local news is really why I pick up the local paper, but, I still don’t think it would take much for someone with the know-how to provide that service via a website. Which raises a question, could there just be a “re-tooling” of the print industry? That is, they employ the same people but just train them to be web based? Same business, just different medium?

  6. AndyW February 27th, 2009 11:28 am

    Yeah, that’s certainly the plan. The trouble is, 90 percent of newspaper profits come from print. Even if way more people go to a paper’s Web site, those banner ads just cost much less, so there’s less money to pay for reporters and such. Of course, you don’t have to have a giant printing press or hundreds of delivery people, so there’s some savings there, but the math still doesn’t work out. Plus, until you are making serious money online, you have to keep those presses rolling.

    The good news for you Aspen guys is that the free dailies in places like Aspen and Summit County and wherever are doing much better financially than the big dailies like the Rocky. I think it’s the pride in community and fierce interest in local news that makes the difference. I dunno if any paper will survive the Internet age, but if any do, it’ll be those free local dailies.

  7. C. Lowe February 27th, 2009 11:45 am

    Being in the PR field as a profession, I’ve been watching the changing media landscape pretty closely. One interesting move was that of the magazine Newsweek in recent months. Granted, this is a magazine and not a newspaper but it’s an interesting story. Newsweek basically decided that they would cut back on the time and effort they would spend on actually reporting news, which means employing people to chase down details of stories that differentiate their reporting. Instead, they’ve left the actual reporting of news to the millions of other outlets that can do it faster and cheaper and Newsweek has changed their print magazine to feature reviews of news, analysis of trends, etc. It’s not the details of the minute but rather the broader view that appears to now be important to Newsweek. (Apologies for not providing more specifics or links, I’m going off of memory here.)

    It’s an interesting move and time will tell if it works out financially but it’s one space that I think print could continue to occupy and not be replaced by the internet.

    This niche that Newsweek now seeks to occupy is similar to that of the Sunday morning political talk shows such as Meet the Press. It’s less about the details of the day’s events in Washington D.C. but more about the significance (or lack thereof) of the week’s events and what they mean in the broader context of world.

    Sitting back in an armchair while smoking a pipe and contemplating the meaning of life is the context for this type of publication. It’s not to provide the details of a story that just broke which many newspapers attempt to do and are now being out-competed by the internet. I have lots of print publications (the Sunday NY Times, Orion Magazine, The New Yorker) that I enjoy because they require the time to contemplate them and that’s one area that I don’t see digital publishing taking over just yet.

  8. mb February 27th, 2009 11:52 am

    “denouement” ?! “harbinger” maybe? 😉

  9. Lou February 27th, 2009 11:57 am

    MB, by denouement I meant a peak, or important, point on the curve (grin). Yeah, harbinger might be better… thanks for pointing that out!

  10. Kevin February 27th, 2009 11:19 pm

    Lou- I for one have embraced the speed of the electronic media age but there is something strange about ready articles on a PDA while drinking coffee. Your choice of newspaper headlines brought back memories of that day in 1987. I turned down a day of skiing on Peak 7 due to the flu. I remember my phone waking me that afternoon to hear my mother very happy to know her ski industry “professional” son had not headed into the Peak 7 backcountry that day as planned. As I recall the snow pack that year would have been the envy of C&H sugar company and no one else. The news traveled fast by phone and in the bars that day in Summit County.

    The additional sick feeling I felt that day can only compare to the feeling I had last December 11th when I received the Madoff news from one of my analysts via Blackberry. FYI- Wildsnow is the only non securities industry website on my PC bookmarks and has top billing! It is all about priorities!

  11. Lou February 28th, 2009 6:33 am

    Kevin, the trick in my opinion is to get a PDA with a fairly large LCD. I use mine (some kind of Samsung) quite a bit for reading websites in coffee shops, using their wifi, and it works great. I guess I’ve gotten used to it as it doesn’t feel strange. But I still grab a newspaper now and then since they’re kicking around, and I still like books, though the new version of the Amazon reader sounds pretty nice.

  12. Ray Thomas February 28th, 2009 8:09 pm

    Hi Lou
    The avalanche danger is getting high in the West Kootenays near Nelson in southern BC. Here is an article about a recent accident.

  13. Sal Paradise March 1st, 2009 6:52 pm

    I was skiing at Breck that with Diamond Dave and his girlfriend Jen, we were first timers at Breck (we were based at Sunlight) and contemplated heading over to peak 7 – we had spotted some other skiers over there – we were discussing our plans when one of the lifties overheard us and advised against it – due to avy dangers, we listend to him and after our next in bounds run the thing let loose….never did thank that liftie…

  14. Mark March 2nd, 2009 7:56 am

    I subscribed to the Sunday edition of the Portland Oregonian for awhile when I lived there, but it was so massive and only created a growing mound of recycling as I fell behind in reading it. It is a shame that many newspapers are dying, but it is likely inevitable.

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