New Orleans’ based newspaper, The Times-Picayune, announced that it is shifting its print publications to a three day a week schedule instead of its traditional seven days a week model. The focus of the paper will shift to its free online content and will attempt to look at ways of making online advertising more profitable. In addition to the Times-Picayune, the Birmingham News the Press-Register in Mobile, Alabama, and The Huntsville (Alabama) Times will also shift to a 3 day print schedule.
[note: see Ted Jackson’s gut-wrenching photo of the T-P staff hearing the announcement.]

Print newspaper subscriptions have suffered significantly in the age of the Internet. Although no one is saying that reporting is becoming obsolete, many of us are thinking that “print” reporting is becoming obsolete and the shift is to online or mobile app platforms. In fact, in today’s Houston Chronicle (print edition) an ad was run right next to this story saying that “Sunday Circulation” was up 2.8% for the Chronicle. Notice how the ad shows the iPhone, iPad, online, and print editions?? We librarians have felt the pains of a shift in how our consumers use our services, but I’d be the first to admit that I would much rather deal with the change in library industry than be a reporter today.

The whole issue of “Print vs. Online” has been raging for years now, with print being a consistent loser. The one element in this battle, however, has been the idea that advertising revenues are what will keep these news resources going (be they in print, online, app, whatever….) However, I just got off the phone with Toby Brown and asked how the heck can advertising dollars be spread over such a large number of resources in a way that can keep them afloat?? I just don’t see how current advertising structures will be sustainable over the next few years. In fact, Fox and NBC-Universal just sued DirecTV because they’ve developed an “ad hopper” which allows DirecTV customers to automatically skip over advertising.

It is a bizarre time in the news and media world these days. As we shift more and more away from traditional sources of news and entertainment, and we go online, streaming or app our way into the future of information access, the economics of the industry will constantly shift in order to try to support the industry. I thought that Vince Gill hit something on the head when he tossed out the fact that music singles today cost 99¢. A single in 1960 cost… 99¢. The prima facie economics of the news and media industry just don’t add up to profits. Consumers don’t want to pay more, pay walls don’t seem to be the answer, and advertisers are being more selective on where they place their ads. I, for one, would hate to be an advertising director in a major corporation right now.

Where will it all lead?? Here’s some of my (random) thoughts on the subject:

  • More “app-based” access. Apps would give the media provider more control over making sure ads aren’t skipped, and that ads are targeted at appropriate users (no Cadillac ads sent to 12 year old girls.) App platforms will include iOS devices, Android (mostly Kindle Fire), and gaming devices like XBox360.
  • More online access. Similar to the app-based, media providers will push their wears to where the eyes are. I’m sure that more attempts will be made to push ads to the right people, and prevent them from skipping over the ads… however, the success rate will be much lower than the app-based platforms.
  • More “subscribe to play” access. Many providers will shift to collaborative efforts and prevent their products from entering into homes that don’t have access to their product in another way. Initially this will mean you need a Cable TV subscription in order to use their online service. I think, just like the pay wall, this will fail. It is already being floated out there to keep Hulu-Plus subscribers from having access to certain shows, if they do not have a cable tv subscription.
  • More “crowd-funded” access. You’ll see more efforts like KickStarter on media projects. I could imagine a newspaper having a KickStarter project that funds their business for a three-month period of time, and in return gives something back to their supporters. People are eager to fund projects that they feel strongly about. Imagine that instead of a subscription, a newspaper says that for $50.00 you support our paper, and in return we dedicate a section of the paper to you or to a cause you support?? For $100 you get your name printed at the top of the first page for one day, etc. May sound silly, but one musician raised $450,000 from her fans. Media outlets do have fans, perhaps there is an opportunity here for them as well??

Everything is going to change. How will it end up?? No one knows. The only thing that seems to be understood at this point in the game is that it will take some clever thinking to come to that answer.

  • Chrissy

    Very interesting article and fascinating to see if the typical advertising model will continue to govern. The world of media/entertainment is rapidly changing in today's society. The older and established companies are struggling to keep up while new things pop up. (For news… blogs, reddit, digg, etc. For entertainment… online sharing, crowd sourced, self publishing, online streaming, etc.)

    I, for one, am enjoying watching things unfold. Although many times the older companies try to stop newer business models via legislaton or lawsuits- they cannot win forever. The results are a loss of respect for those companies as well as the copyright laws they pushed into place. Yet we still have seen favorable things for the consumer(Netflix, iTunes, reddit, digg, kickstart, redbox, etc).

    One interesting blog you might enjoy: It is more from the copyright/business side rather than the law firm and information management side.

  • Chuck Lowry

    My affection for New Orleans is, I suppose, too well known to require much repetition, so it will be no surprise that I regret the diminution of the Times-Picayune. While its history is interesting (what other newspaper had William Faulkner write twice-weekly sketches to pay the rent before As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury caught on?), its greatest moment was after Katrina, when it was one of the few local institutions that rallied a defeated populace, agitated for effective remedies and exposed horrible abuses. I know that Greg moves from the particular troubles at a New Orleans newspaper to a discussion of larger issues, but I wanted to stop just for a moment to reflect on what the paper has meant to a very special piece of real estate. The New Orleans journalist Andrei Corescu wrote of his adoptive (he was born in Transylvania) city, "But there is more subjective time and space here in New Orleans than almost anywhere in the United States. Which is not to say that the sad ironies of dehumanized commerce and violence do not touch us here: they do, as Walker Percy's Moviegoer and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces amply prove. But the city puts up a fight, a funny, sad fight, a fight composed sometimes of sly stupidities and Third World inefficiencies. The city can drive a sober-minded person insane, but it feeds the dreamer. It feeds the dreamer stories, music, and food. Really great food." It's just going to get harder to feed the dreamer now, with a diminished Times-Picayune.