Annenberg School on Online Newspapers

April 30, 2009

From Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future:

In questions about reading online and print newspapers — key elements of the eighth annual comprehensive study of the impact of online technology on America — the Digital Future Project  found that Internet users read online newspapers for 53 minutes per week, the highest level thus far in the Digital Future studies. 

In contrast, Internet users in 2007 reported 41 minutes per week reading online newspapers.

The project also found that 22 percent of users said they stopped their subscription to a printed newspaper or magazine because they could access the same content while online.


And on the Other Hand…

April 28, 2009

From D Magazine, the counterpoint to newspaper circ cliff diving:

News Circ Down 10%: Why That’s Good

Newspaper circulation would seem to be in a free fall, if you just took the numbers at face value. But don’t.

In the year just past, the News increased prices 100% in single-copy daily, 33% in Sunday and 17% in home subscriptions. As a result, it took in $10 million more in circulation revenue. The newspaper is doing exactly what it should be doing: dumping marginal readers and zeroing in on a quality audience willing to pay top dollar for the product. My compliments to Jim Moroney. It’s a tough time to effect such a strategy — but it is also the right time.

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Newspaper Circ Cliff Diving

April 28, 2009

From Silicon Alley Insider:

See that black line? That’s the American newspaper industry falling off a cliff. The LA Times and New York Times seem to be happily following. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, which charges for access to its online content, looks shockingly healthy.


Say of the Day: Thomas Carlyle

April 27, 2009

After reading today’s excerpt in the NYT Magazine, I’m very much looking forward to reading Christopher Buckley’s memoir, Losing Mum and Pup.  It’s quite a family of letters when the son despairs of having written only 14 books, becasue the father wrote more than  50 to complement  45 volumes of columns in his day job.

But I epsecially loved this quote from Thomas Carlyle, which son says described father perfectly, forming “the solopsist’s definitive credo:”

Let me have my own way in everything and a sunnier and pleasanter creature does not exist.

Well, even we solopsists need words to live by.


Content Wants to be Ubiquitous

April 24, 2009

This Mark Potts post about the upside-down pricing of the WSJ online-only edition got me thinking about the old (well, old in web-years) adage that “information wants to be free…but it also wants to be expensive.”

Maybe this is so obvious that it’s not even worth saying, but that’s rarely stopped me before.  When the the unit production cost of any good approaches zero, what that good really wants to be is ubiquitous.  And information–particularly news– on the web is sui generis in at least two reespects:   regardless of the total production cost of a piece of content, the average unit cost has the potential to be trivial because replication is free.  And unlike any other good I can think of, the marginal unit production cost is exactly equal to the marginal unit distrubution cost, and both approach zero.  It’s hard to imagine that even the most arduous, long-form, Pulitzer-winning series of articles will have an per-unit cost of much above the asymptote–and here’s the perverse thing–if enough people want to read it.   

It’s Say’s Law in reverse:  demand creates its own supply.    The more popular something is, the more of it exists, and the only “cost” in the whole affair is the “lost revenue” which content sources suddenly claim is their birthright.  (Ironically, old newspaper hands used to say that they were happy if they covered the cost of their distribution networks with subscription revs).  But the problem is, online news and the link economy were born as conjoined twins, there is real business danger in trying to separate them.  At the outset, what publisher really knows what will work and what won’t in terms of free vs paid (e.g.. Potts’s example of the WSJ iPhone app)?  Movies, music and books are different, because they were born in a content model, not a media model.  They relied on the link economy for building buzz and sharing enthusiasm (I know I’ll get the music argument here, but it’s settled by now).  And please:  those who keep pointing to the same hackneyed paid content examples–Zagat’s and Consumer Reports–does anybody really want to own those businesses for the next ten years in the face of companies like Yelp!  and BazaarVoice (an AV company)?

There are a lot of departure points for arguments that label paywalls and cartels as acts of futility.   But this one seems like the best:  if you’re in the business of charging money for something that has marginal production and distribution costs of zero, it might be time to find another line of work.  Like, for example, preventing snow melt from running down mountains.


Pressure on the Presses

April 24, 2009

You needn’t share my morbid fascination with the decline of the newspaper industry to find this WSJ graphic really valuable and interesting.  This is, in fact, the kind of journalism–presenting the news in a context which accretes over time–which the web so freely enables.  Trouble is, it doesn’t monetize very well.


Congress and Newspapers

April 24, 2009

This Dana Milbank piece would be funny if it weren’t so……well, not funny.