Can Traditional Newspapers Exist When Data Is Digital?
Posted May 9, 2011on:
Many people have enjoyed the habit of waking up in the morning, grabbing the morning paper, settling down with coffee and cereal, and learning what happened to the world since the day before. I used to watch my mother go through this ritual daily. I never did.
The question isn’t how do we get young people to read newspapers. The question is – is it even possible to save the traditional newspaper or magazine?
Unfortunately, I don’t think it is. Traditional print media, according to Clay Shirky in his article Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, relied on the fact that printing presses are expensive, thus limiting competition and creating positive returns to scale. The press is no longer expensive. It’s pretty dang cheap. It’s the Internet. As I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, I’m using free Internet (well, included in my rent), and the free version of WordPress. Competition has just boomed, but the costs for traditional printing remain the same.
Beyond simple infrastructure, the institutional organization used by traditional print media is being challenged by a more fluid and agile structure – one without managers. As Shirky described in his book Here Comes Everybody, businesses and organizations pay a price to be so organized. So they can’t cover everything, like special interest pieces or all the little town hall meetings that might, though probably not, blow up into a big story. Considering the cost of covering such stories, the returns simply aren’t there. However, in this new digitized world there are free or cheap tools that allow groups to organize themselves, such as wikis or simply shared blogs and e-mail, without having a concentrated managerial layer. When the structural framework is digitized to this degree, the transaction costs are lower, allowing these new publishers to tackle more niche subjects – and reap the benefits traditional publishers can’t touch.
The way news is presented when it is digital is not analogous to a newspaper, either. Digital news is often accessed through news aggregators, who categorize based on subjects or categories. News is no longer bundled with a bunch of different topics, like finance and movies, sold to the same consumer, who may only want one. Putting all types of stories in a single paper makes sense when you have to balance printing costs. But it makes no sense when data is digital. People just switch to a source perceived as better for that type of news or pull it straight off of news aggregators.
Finally, people approach digital content differently from printed content. They want it cheaper. Susan Currie Sivek pointed out that a study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute found that though users thought that reading magazine apps on their iPads was about the same as reading the traditional print versions or going to their computers, they would be more likely to purchase these apps if the prices were lower than the print version prices. People simply think digital material should be cheaper. The news institutions have to meet these price points or deal with more piracy.
The traditional printing industry simply can’t survive in a world where data is digital, both the institutional and the articles. The digital world simply has very little resemblance to the traditional marketplace they were created to serve. This is not to say the institutions can’t adapt to this new world, but they won’t look the same as they do now.
*This post was written as part of an assignment for my
but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.