Firstly, let me make a point - I love books and newspapers, and I love the medium that they use. I love the smell of fresh newsprint, and there's something cool about reading the news over the dining table in the morning. And books without leaves will ever be a problem for me - it just wouldn't feel natural. That said, let me get to the real point of this post. The printing business may have been disastrous for the environment, but the real battle for the newspaper has only just recently reared its ugly head. The upheaval of how information is disseminated through the web has taken a bigger toll on the newspaper industry, so much so that we may be looking at the very last days of the traditional newspaper format.
As of last week, several newspapers in the US have closed down due to insufficient revenues generated by a lack of interest in sales. If this trend continues, we could very well be looking at the total death of the newspaper industry the world over. We'll have to content ourselves with reading them through online mediums.
But take these two facts and mull them over:
1. Newspapers aren't selling. Slowly, all the broadsheets and tabloids throughout the world are giving way to digital media. You don't go check out the newsstands for the Inquirer, you go online and check out their website. Or if you're like me, you've got them on RSS, and that's more than enough news for you in a day. It makes you wonder how these guys still make money - well the answer comes by way of competent and intelligent advertising.
2. But wait. According to Rupert Murdoch, NewsCorp will soon be charging their readers for reading the content from their website. That's because the money they make through advertising online is so minimal that it doesn't even count as break-even.
So two conflicting facts. I don't know how publishers are going to reconcile the two facts in the future, but I don't see how newspapers can be making money online via advertising and still lose money in the process. I mean, if the free news business model is failing altogether, I don't understand why the newspaper has to go the way of the dinosaur.
But the most important thing to remember here is that the classic medium of the newspaper is slowly biting the dust. While this is good news for environmentalists in general, it's a different thing altogether for publishers. You KNOW they're losing money with the slow decrease in sales, and the free flow of information via the Internet is kicking their butts. Murdoch charging people to view online content that they could check elsewhere anyway is a last-ditch effort to milk the digital format for what it's worth.
Some revolutionaries are, of course, attempting to revitalize the broadsheet format with new technology. Converting the physical form of the newspaper into a digital ebook format that can be read by using PDF readers like Amazon's Kindle DX is a relatively new idea that merits consideration. Over at Least I Could Do, Ryan Sohmer postulated a model that could make the newspaper format work by bundling year-long newspaper subscriptions with free Kindles, postulating that by giving away free readers, Amazon stands to make more money with the technology by giving consumers the means to read ebooks that they can buy online.
It's amazing how the complementing products analogy works.
But even that solution isn't without its own roadbumps. Here in the Philippines, for example, it's rather easy for both government officials and your standard consumer to corrupt the business of Kindles and newspaper subscriptions. Just because consumers won't pay for information in my country doesn't mean that they won't get that information, one way or the other - PSP games are an example, much to my shame. And if you've heard of the Great Book Blockade of 2009 (which merits another post altogether), you'll know that bringing in Kindle shipments from overseas can be a very tedious and expensive affair for both Amazon and local distributors. And that's just an example of the problem with having the technology. Implementation is a bigger, more mystifying topic.
But then again, we're just in the second quarter of the year. Who knows, maybe somewhere down the road, we get to witness the birth of a totally new medium that will render both the Internet and newspapers obsolete. You can never tell these things.