Future of news paper?

“Seattle Post-Intelligencer Will Shut Down Paper, Go Online Only”

“Detroit newspapers to end daily home delivery”

More and more I am seeing articles predicting the demise of news paper as we know it. With internet and devices such as Kindle, Sony reader what is the future of news paper business? Newspapers such as NYT, Washington Post have spoilt their readers by offering the www version for free. They probably cannot start charging now, and even if they did, how would that be? Would someone who is used to getting it for free be willing to pay, and if so how much? And how many papers would a customer be willing to subscribe? I do no think online ads are sufficient to keep funding these papers.

Even if the news paper print version becomes a stripped down version of what it is now, how will they survive and what will the business model be? Will it be pay-as-you-go and micro transactions – perhaps 5 cents for each article purchased? What is an optimum value for an article? How much would you be willing to pay?

What are the other value-adds that a paper would have to provide to entice customers? Would newspapers under a conglomerate combine to offer subscription – such as all of Murdoch’s publications for $20.00 a month? SF chronicle has reduced its staff of reporters and even some of the ones retained do not have a space in the print version. They maintain a blog and to add additional value, they have taken to twitter like real-time blogging during sporting events.

I understand the article is U.S/Euro centric in that this is more of an issue where internet access is easily available to a majority of the population. Just like cell phones, would there be a leap-frogging of this business model in countries like India and China? Do you anticipate these readers becoming cheap enough for it to become affordable in emerging countries? Or will readers on cell phones become sophisticated enough? Perhaps, news papers will tie-up with carriers to make data available via such devices?

Please do provide your thoughts on this topic.  Also, if have you tried devices such as Kindle, Sony reader etc., do share your experience.

I did try and read a chapter via the kindle app in my iPhone. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to upload a book/chapter from the amazon website into my iPhone. Even the reading experience was good – no obtrusive buttons or icons; just shows the black text against clear white background. Do not know if I will ever get a kindle, but will certainly use the iPhone to read a few things here and there.


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    I own Kindle 2. I had just completed reading one book. The reading experience is wonderful. I haven’t subscribed to any of the newspapers. I really love the way Amazon has put lot of thoughts into details. Definitely worth its money.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said March 27, 2009, 7:30 pm:

    Interesting post Ganesh. I am thinking that the congolomerate bulk subscription you have mentioned seems like a worthy idea to pursue. I would tweak the idea a bit – someone can offer all major newspapers and magazines by aggregating into a single subscription fee. This has already been done by the Cable Industry. They took what was essentially a free product (Terrestrial TV) into a basic cable + premium cable subscription. The main value offered by the Cable industry was the increased quality of transmission. In the same way, a newspaper aggregator can appear which presents articles that are most suited to a subscriber and thereby add value. They can also have premium subscriptions for specialty magazines – say formula one or the myriad technology magazines c++ etc which are focused on niche audience much like premium cable. Clearly i see a technology play in this. Whoever can figure this out can make a killing. Like in the Cable industry, this may spawn wholly new magazines and newspapers that have been created specifically for this aggregator service.

    Amazon’s Kindle is in a great position for launching this type of service. They can pretty much give the kindle away for a 2 year contract worth of subscription fees. This is much like what the cellphone companies do – give the device away for a 2 year contract.

    What say?

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    Great post Ganesh. I bought a book for iPhone’s kindle application and it was really awesome to read,just a 2 clicks i got the book in iPhone. But only issue i found was, sometimes we have to wait for next pages to load if we are at dead zone. I don’t know about Kindle but for iPhone we have “Mobile News Service Network Powered by AP” for aggregation feed service, it is free for now but not all news from major newspaper covered.

    I was personally very happy to see the end of paper printing, hope to see some tree saved. Paper printing is the oldest technology but we still use it here. But for some they have to feel the paper to read. But over the period, paper printing news would become a museum thing.

    I think NYT, Washington Post is moving towards WSJ model, which is read some basic article but we have to pay some money for premium articles. But I like an al-carte style of personalizing, that is pick and choose from different news papers section, something like alltop.com.

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    Ganesh and others,
    You may all want to see this TED Video talk

    Jacek Utko a polish designer has pushed up newspaper circulation rates by as high as 100% by redesigning newspapers. very cool.

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    Nice article! I think newspapers will have a subscription based business model like many of the magazines and journals today have, wherein the readers may pay a minimum amount per month to access the same. or like as Sukumar mentioned the Bulk subscription model. Today also various paid and subscription based databases maintains journals and newspapers and they are pretty good sources of information especially for research and referencing archives.

    As far as newspapers staff is concerned, though there will be more bloggers rather than journalists for the print media, but their affinity towards a particular publication group is very important for authenticity/reliability purpose.

    I hope print based newspapers co-exist in the internet based society (at-least for few years down the line) as not all ppl may have access to online services or advanced gadgets at all the times and it will lead to a more deep digital divide for the have-nots specially in developing economies.

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    Ganesh said April 2, 2009, 9:33 pm:

    Excellent tweak on the conglomerate idea. Cable TV is a good analogy. There is work to be done on both publisher and provider/distributor end.

    Here are some requirements I would place on providers/distributors from an end-user perspective –

    * Both subscription and on-demand models need to be supported.
    * News that I have subscribed to and paid for will show up as links
    * I would subscribe to ‘free’ headlines from various print organizations. If I am interested in
    reading one, I would be able to purchase it immediately
    * Discounts maybe available for buying/subscribing multiple articles from an organization (or
    conglomerate). This would be similar to buying a ‘Hindi’ package via Dish network rather than ala carte
    * Experience of reading and buying should be seamless via various devices – computer, cell phone,
    readers etc.
    * Distributors need to support for a payment system that non-intrusively supports various
    currencies. As an end-user could subscribe to Ananda Vikatan, WSJ and BBC. But I should be
    able to pay in a currency of my choice via a single account.
    * Micro transactions support would almost become a pre-requisite for the above requirements

    I can see other innovations around this such as subscription and pay-as-you-go prices being cheaper if end-user allows ads to show up, discounts available if user clicks on an ad, corporate/group discounts etc. I can see an eco system developing around filterations and teasers based on my reading trend.

    As Subba has mentioned, we can do this today to some extent with meehive, alltop, google news etc. As revenue generation capability expands and more newspapers shutdown the ‘paper portal’, we would see a whole set of business emerge and thrive to help publishers, distributors and end-users.

    Meenu, You bring up a good point about bloggers and their contribution to news. Typically, news is supposed to be content based facts with source and data whetted. With the current instant gratification mentality (both on the publisher and consumer end) and newspapers paying bloggers instead of journalists and instant publishing outlets such as twitter, facebook, one has to be careful about what is termed as ‘news’. I am not denigrating such outlets. Just saying that we need to be careful about ‘news’ percolating via such avenues.

    It would be interesting to see how universities adapt to teaching this new form of journalism. I also believe new governance model (such as community based whetting etc.) will emerge.

    About divide expanding between haves and have-nots, I believe that in countries where majority of the population does not have internet access or cannot buy expensive gadgets, I see 2 things that will happen –

    * Existing devices such as phones would support the business model that
    we have talked about
    * Reading devices would become cheaper as number of users increase and I could
    see businesses giving away these devices for free for a certain number of year
    subscription – ala satellite dishes available for free with a 2 year subscription

    And, in this thread we have not talked much about the eco benefits of an electronic medium for news delivery – Trees saved, energy cost reduced etc.


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    Samiran (subscribed) said April 3, 2009, 4:13 pm:

    Interesting thought! I use Viigo at my BB which acts as a news aggregator. It’s pretty good considering the gamut of services it provides, just wish i had a text to speech capability to hear them while I am driving. 🙂

    Coming back to your article, one may think traditional news houses could end up providing customized weekly/fortnightly/monthly print editions. We may even see niche print tabloids. But there should still be market for print edition considering that lot of effort is going on to eradicate illiteracy. That would at least make me happy! 🙂

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    Ganesh said April 3, 2009, 8:11 pm:


    Thanks for dropping by. I did not get your association of eradicating illiteracy and print editions. WOuld you care to elaborate? Your comment, however made me think about Negraponte’s OLPC (http://laptop.org/en/).

    Way down the future, such reading devices would replace traditional books as well. Any student can download the latest edition of a book/chapter.

    And, on that topic of books being available via digital media, I see some of the the things that devices of the future supporting –

    * Bookmarks (I think quite a few readers already do this)
    * Highlighting of portions of text
    * Annotations

    And I think small/specialized eco systems/networks will build to share such data mentioned above. For example, I can see a group of students working on different areas of project reading a variety of material. Highlights, annotations etc. created by one student can be shared with everyone.


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    pk.karthik said April 5, 2009, 4:31 pm:

    Interesting post Ganesh…..

    Cable TV operation looks like an interesting option…I guess that it would work in mature market like US or UK.But in developing markets i guess its still feel of paper that makes people read…

    I am not yet tried spindle but reading with application in my phone i found it diffucult and a strain to my eyes.

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    I think the newspapers problems are not solved by forming a cartel and giving subscriptions like cable TV the difference being that there is a entry barrier for good tv production whereas for news production especially daily news, the barrier is extremely low and hence always will be online only newspapers who will provide their content for free. Of course niche papers will survive but the regular ubiquitous daily might not in the current form.. More of my thoughts about this in

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    Thanks for visiting. I read your well stated thoughts on this subject. I think there is a difference between bloggers who can post just facts and journalists. I can see blogs and tweets for emergency situations, where someone happens to be in the right place at the right time. However, for day-to-day news such as a president’s news conference (what you call reporting facts), why would a blogger write about these. And if they did, what is their revenue model? Blogs can be used as a medium of communication, but someone has to pay these bloggers for reporting.

    But you did make me think about the the fact that TV, radio being primarily entertainment portals, while new papers are portals for facts and journalism. Would people be willing to subscribe and pay for news. I think yes – if the price is right and if they are provided a choice.

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    yes there might not be bloggers who dont blog about president’s news conference but the news conference might be available as a press release in some government website. And moreover, if there is any thing important in the release then surely commentators will write blog posts on it and it will be discussed. I can give a US example. When obama released the banking plan called PPIP, the plan was available in whitehouse.gov and it was discussed widely in many many blogs who were interested and were able to have a say in that. I don’t feel that this is a loss if newspapers are gone.

    But I feel one of the things which we might miss is this – Generally newspapers report what they think is important to the people even if we are not really interested, we generally tend to read those front page articles. But in an online world, we can easily skip what we dont want to read and we can just go to the topics that interest us and read. This I
    think will be the major loss if there are no newspapers. That is a grave situation as people will be well informed but only on their topics of interest. Newspapers being limited for space, used to filter out unnecessary articles and include only those which were deemed useful for consumption. Though there are good and bad effects of this, we will miss the good effects of this.

    And hence we need to preserve the newspapers in some form or other but as we are going in the direction of more freedom and doing only what we want to do, I dont see any way to save the newspapers in current form except large scale subsidization.

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    One other model I can think of is a big move towards freelance journalism and leveraging the right distributor to peddled one’s wares. The conglomerates would just be distributors or even that may not be needed.

    Here are a couple of examples –

    Without the support of a major newspaper, would Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodard been able to break a story like watergate? Even a freelance blogger needs sustained revenue to be able to work on investigative stories.

    And on the other end of the spectrum, we have Perez Hilton, a blogger/gossip monger cloaked as a journalist. He does not need the support of any media giant.

    And what about op-ed columnists? I love to read Friedman and Krugman on NY Times. Would they start maintaining their own “pay” blogs? Or have blogs with revenue streamed in via ads?

    And then you have something like “Huffington Post” that today is a mish-mash of blogs, news and gossip. Now, I do not know how bloggers such as Paul Begala are paid.

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    Good idea. Again, the cable tv industry offers a model – syndication. This is aleady used by newspapers. For example, the most of the cartoons that newspapers publish are syndicated to many newspapers across the globe. There is no reason why a blogger’s content cannot be syndicated. It is a big revenue stream i am sure for cartoonists.

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    Hi Ganesh,

    A very thought-provoking post. I’ve been reading snippets about a whole lot of newspapers either closing down or going to an only-online mode, but it was only recently that this became a very real possibility in India – when Ergo, a weekly tabloid from The Hindu that had a primary readership among IT employees (along the IT Corridor) also decided to become available only online.
    Newspapers have never made much money from subscriptions – their primary revenues come from advertisements. From this perspective, this whole argument is game-changing: either that model has to change where their primary revenues will now come from subscriptions; or newspapers online will continue to be free – with some innovative way of attracting advertisements (and therefore revenue).

    The Hindu has been trying to redefine their business to say that they are a media company – and to that extent have now diversified into Television also (NDTV Hindu). So there will definitely be synergies in terms of news aggregation. How this will translate to significant revenues is something they will still need to figure out.

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