Newspapers Giving Up Digital Publishing: A Radical Idea, and a Wrong One


The idea that newspapers should give up digital publishing is a radical one. And it’s also wrong.

A new book from H. Iris Chyi, titled “Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority,” makes the argument that newspapers are so bad at the digital side of publication that they should completely give it up. Chyi points out that newspapers have been going digital for two decades now, and she asks publishers to admit that “digital is not your forte.” She also emphasizes that “the performance of [publishers’] digital products has fallen short of expectations.”

While this may be true, there is no doubt that the world is increasingly a “new media” world.

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Print Generates Revenue, But Maybe Not for Long

The New York Times recently said that it gets 70% of its revenue from print. But interactive newspaper revenues today are almost three times the size of what they were in 2003. True, the overall digital market is around six times what it was then, but the point is that this is a growing industry, not something to abandon.

Why is that? Because those dedicated readers that generate all of that print revenue are getting older. The median readership of newspapers tends to be at least one and a half times older than the median for the U.S. population. That means most loyal newspaper readers are 60 years old and up. And while those subscribers are willing to pay for print, the younger generation is not. The world is moving forward, and newspapers need to keep their digital arms if they’re going to keep up.

Production Costs

A single page of print media carries significant manufacturing and distributing costs that online publications don’t have to worry about. While subscriptions and ad sales cover those costs now, both of these are declining. Ad revenues have been falling for ten years, and loyal readers are dying off. Putting all the newspaper eggs in the print basket and abandoning digital just doesn’t make good money sense.

Digital publishing
Reach readers where they live.

How Newspapers Can Improve Their Digital Publications

The focus shouldn’t be on giving up, it should be on improving digital publications. Publishers can put some life back into their digital side by developing a unique strategy for new media content. The Washington Post saw a 65% jump in the first months of last year through April, according to comScore. How did they do it? They realized that you can’t simply continue with an old media mindset. Under new owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Post began sharing content and partnering with local newspapers to increase readership on both sides. The publication also developed online products created specifically for the internet, like Morning Mix, PostEverything, and Post Nation.

Newspapers should also make sure they’re reaching readers where they “live.” Sharing content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Snapchat is a great way to maximize an audience. Each platform has its own personality, so publishers should keep that in mind when developing a strategy.

If newspapers keep striving for excellence in digital publishing, there’s no reason they should abandon it altogether. Like it or not, new media is where the world is, and it will continue to go in that direction. Newspapers should make sure they’re on the ride with their readers, exploring new possibilities and opportunities that will allow them to continue offering great content to everyone.

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