Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Dying Deadwood Press: Anger

In the end of 1990s a lot of people predicted that internet will kill newspapers and most of magazines. Most of industry pundits reacted at the time that newspapers survived radio, TV and will survive internet. We heard from other corners of the markets that internet is just a fad, that internet companies don't make any money, that virtual goods can produce only virtual profits. That was the denial phase.

I think most newspaper people celebrated dot-com crash of 2000. Well, celebration was premature. In the last several years newspapers profits eroded and then completely disappeared. A lot of well known newspapers either died already or under Chapter 11 protection. Some switched to online-only publications (oh! the irony of it!). And suddenly we have a burst of anger coming from press. Lots of columnists are complaining, demanding some action, there are calls to charge Google (GOOG) for links to their news content. In other words, they want money from company which advertise their material for free! Why Google? Because it has boatloads of money, obviously. Their main point? Newspapers spend money to investigate the news and want their "fair share".

Newspapers are dead wrong. Their business model is dead. Advertisements are moving to the internet, nothing can stop this process. Press doesn't know how to run online business? It's not a reason to demand (and they don't ask, they demand) money from those who know. Let's find analogy in the past. Hm, the only one I can come up with is for horse transport owners of the second half of 19th century to demand payments from railroads, because most of the shipped goods come to railroads in horse drawn carriages. Of course, horse transport owners didn't have the abilities of the best columnists in the country. Just take a look at this piece by Maureen Dawd. But she is one of the best, and in today's article she Phil Bronstein from San Francisco Chronicle: “That’s the most hopeful thing you can say about print journalism, that old people are living longer.” That's close to acceptance.

The loudest complain is that newspapers spend a lot on the news research. But complainers forget to mention the fact that a lot of reporters don't work for a particular newspaper or TV station: they are freelancers. Nothing would stop them from selling their stories to some internet companies instead of deadwood press. There are no such companies right now, most of the internet news pages, like Yahoo! News or Google News are aggregators. But I don't see any barriers to entrance, except for quite serious capital requirements. I think such companies will appear quite soon.

I just wonder how much scream are we going to hear from TV stations, when they start going out of business?

Full disclosure: at the time of publication author had a long position in GOOG and no positions in any newspaper or TV companies. Positions can change any time.

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