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August 31, 2006 / Toby Dayton

Are Newspapers Dying A Slow, Ugly Death?

A quick little intro for those of you tuning in to the Big Bad Recruiting Blog Swap… My name is Tod Hilton and I will be your host for this post. What I am: a software developer at Microsoft and a bunch of other things [father, husband, gamer, snowboarder, etc.]. What I’m not: a recruiter or hiring manager, although I do interview candidates and give the infamous ‘hire’ or ‘no-hire’ recommendation.

Here at Diggings, Toby has talked quite a bit about newspapers and their struggles to maintain readership and distribution as our world becomes increasingly available online. Since JobDig publishes weekly newspapers in 7 states this is a pretty important topic to them so I am going to take a few minutes of your time to discuss my personal experience with this issue. I think that I am [or was] the typical newspaper consumer and hope to give you that perspective.

My morning ritual used to be breakfast with the local paper. Every. Single. Day. For years this was how I spent the first 30 minutes of my day…digesting current events, local news, weather, national headlines and sports along with my bagel or toast. I really enjoyed this morning ritual and would feel out-of-whack if I had to skip it for any reason. I am definitely a creature of habit. :-)

And then something changed a few years ago. During the time my schedule had changed putting me getting out of bed at 4:30 AM to make it in to work and I just didn’t feel like getting up 30 minutes earlier [4 AM, ugh] to read the paper [go ahead, call me lazy :-)]. For awhile I took it into work with me and would read it there, but then I found that my local paper had started publishing their articles online and via RSS feeds. I thought to myself, why pay for the print version when I can just as easily read it online for free? That’s when I cancelled my subscription, which I had had for 7+ years.

First of all, I applaud the Everett Herald for moving to an online model! It’s a smaller paper than the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and targets Snohomish county (population of 585,000] so I cannot imagine they have a really large budget or huge resources. I think it was a bold step for them to accept the internet and start publishing online in the early 2000s. Initially, they would only put the previous days printed stories online and that just irritated me. Who really wants to get their news in the day-old section? I don’t know what the catalyst was, but it only took a few months for them to start publishing the current days stories online in parallel with their print version.

Secondly, there is the issue of revenue. Instead of getting my automatic monthly subscription, now they hope that I click on their advertisements. In reality, I could probably count the number of times I have clicked-through one of their ads in the past few years on my fingers. Yep, that’s less than 10 click-throughs in the past 2 years. Compared to my $10/month subscription I’m getting off cheap and they’re losing money in the bank!

With regard to their RSS feeds, they only publish partial feeds and I don’t blame them at all. They’re a business and they need to make money. The primary way for them to earn money via their website is advertising. If I don’t go to their site then I don’t see their ads and there isn’t even a chance I’ll click on one. So I don’t mind that their RSS feed only gives me the article title and the first few sentences, requiring me to visit the site to read the whole thing. It’s a sound business model, just like printing the most attention-grabbing, interesting story on the front page so you’ll buy the paper.

There you have it, the newspaper lost one faithful subscriber to their website. Does that mean that newspapers are dying a slow, ugly death? Honestly, I think that they will if they rely solely on print sales and subscriptions. Times, they are a-changing and the papers need to change with them. For the papers to remain profitable [assuming that they are now] they will need to supplement their declining print sales. Be it with an online model or even free WI-FI, they will need to do something.

On the flip side, I don’t think that printed newspapers will ever completely die off. I still go down to the store and buy a Sunday paper to read with my coffee and breakfast. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the way I used to read the paper or the color comics or the big sports section or all of the advertisements. I don’t know, but I do still like the feel of the paper and the atmosphere of a relaxing morning reading through the editorials while sipping on a hot cup of coffee.

[tags]Microsoft, Death of Newspapers, Newspapers Are Dying, Slow Ugly Death, Painful To Watch, RSS Feeds, Advertising, Subscription Fees, Morning Rituals, Reading Papers[/tags]