Newspaper publishers flirt with obscurity, irrelevance

“If many people could redo history they would prefer that the everything-is-free Internet model had never gained ascendancy.” says David Hiller, president of Tribune Interactive, in Columbia Journalism Review. That pretty much sums up the spirit of denial that is gripping more and more newspaper industry executives.

Meanwhile, Newsday reports:

Only 33 percent of U.S. families led by someone age 25 to 34 bought a daily newspaper in 2001 compared with 63 percent in 1985, according to surveys of consumer spending by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This decline in newspaper purchases is accelerating with a drop of 21 percentage points in the five years ended in 2000, or triple the rate seen during 1985-1995.

They go on to report that 80% of 18 to 34 year olds in the NY metro area get their news from the Internet and only 55% get it from the web.

Meanwhile Steve Outing at Poynter shares the story of an online news editor who lost his job because he opposed charging for the newspaper’s web site.

Some people get it. In a comment on Steve Outing’s posting, Henry Copeland tells us the NY Times has sold 160,000 subscriptions from its web site. Neil Budde, the former publisher and founder of the Wall Street Journal Online, and hero of fee-loving newspaper publishers everywhere, tells PAID, “Too many people are making a rush towards the subscription model because everybody says now is the time they should go for that.”

I’m stunned that this debate is still going on. What’s clear is that, as monopolists accustomed to 25% profit margins, newspaper publishers are intellectually ill-equipped to publish on the Internet.

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