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August 30, 2007 / Toby Dayton

Metro Daily Papers in 2020…

In a piece entitled “What Will The Metro Newspaper Look Like In 2020?,” Dave Morgan writes a pretty good piece on the future of the daily newspapers in large metro markets in 2020. (See yesterday’s post here and a similar Slate piece here). As one of the comments on Morgan’s post points out, it’s hard enough to predict what they landscape will look like in 2010, let alone 2020. I applaud Morgan for bravely attempting to envision things 13 years from now. I also happen to agree with much of what he states, with the exception of a few points.

I don’t think all media will be digital in 2020. While the vast majority of content may, in fact, be delivered digitally, there is still tremendous appeal in print. It is portable and requires no power, it’s inexpensive and highly tactile. I am reminded of the great comment made at the Slate media summit at the New York City Library a year or so ago that if, in the imaginary absence of daily newspapers, someone were asked to invent the perfect content delivery vehicle, they’d eventually settle on the newspaper. There is a great deal of truth in the comment, and the same appealing traits will still hold true in 2020 to a sufficient degree.

The real question is what the content will look like and where it will come from. This topic could be the subject of many, many posts, or even a thesis paper. In summary, I’d venture to guess that newspapers will be aggregating content from hundreds of sources, much as they do to an increasing extent today, but on a much, much larger scale with much, much broader participation. These sources will include professional news sources, amateur news sources, casual readers and users, other content providers, bloggers, the web in general, etc. I would also guess that a huge mountain of content will be derived from sources we can just barely imagine today, primarily facilitated by where the web is heading. Through an online conduit, I receive my desired content regularly and print out my own paper for the day or read it on a screen. I could provide feedback on what I received and improve the quality, desirability, and customization of what I get tomorrow.

Revenue streams will still largely be derived from advertising and subscription services. I could imagine selecting the exact content, sources, columnists, and topics I’m interested in from an enormous menu of choices, even from (or especially from) competing media companies, and paying a subscription fee at some level. Newspapers could thrive by being that preferred aggregator and allowing for/providing if desired a variety of filters and screens based upon user choice. At a minimum, readers would have an extremely thorough, highly detailed user profile, perhaps shielded at a variety of levels, so that advertisers would be able to deliver incredibly targeted advertising to me along with the content…who I am, where I work, what I buy, what I do for fun, where I travel, what I read, what I listen to, what I watch, what I wear, what schools I went to, what I studied, and on and on. It’s a little or a lot Orwellian, depending on your perspective, but it is absolutely where media consumption is headed and newspapers will have to be there if they are going to succeed. Google and the web in general will be there sooner than we can imagine, and most media companies will have to be there too if they are going to survive.

Morgan concludes his piece by stating that there will be many, many winners in the space, but newspapers will not be among them. I’d argue that while that is largely true given how many mediocre newspapers there are today, the good ones will survive (albeit with vastly different economics), and the great ones will thrive.

[tags]The Future Of Newspapers, Media, Metro Dailies, New Media, Media in 2020[/tags]