How many paper dailies—not just individual copies of them—will end up as trash?
And, yes, as many in the industry believe, Google is responsible to a great extent, but not in the way you might think.
Google’s news site actually draws traffic to newspapers. It isn’t Google’s fault that they’re not smart enough in many cases to monetize it. As a long-term retirement investment, I own a tiny speck of Google but would say precisely the same if I didn’t.
Here’s the real newspaper-killer. As noted yesterday by Hal Varian, Google chief economist, online news readers are spending an average of 70 seconds a day on this activity, compared to 25 minutes for a daily physical newspaper. I believe him. Online newspapers still are not interactive enough.
Newspaper people still think of reader comments as an annoyance, rather than taking the time to develop elaborate online communities of the kind I pushed a few days ago for The Morning Journal, my old factory-town paper in Lorain, Ohio. I speak as the former owner of TeleRead.org, an e-book site I sold partly because I lacked the resources to achieve the level of interactivity I wanted.
Another explanation for newspapers’ decline, says Varian, is that “Nowadays internet users go directly to websites like Edmunds, Orbitz, Epicurious, and Amazon to look for products and services in specialized areas.” Exactly. Google efficiently lets people explore their favorite topics in depth, and that is bad news for newspaper sections such as travel and real estate.
How can newspapers respond? They should be developing their own special-interest sites with plenty of interactivity and other Net-helpful features—as opposed to simply using a patchwork of traditional feature stories as ad bait. These special sites could swap content with the regular paper.
In some cases, “special” could be part of the core newspaper rather than spun out. In particular I’d recommend the hyperlocal approach, which I advocated for the Lorain, and which in fact is already on the agenda of the Journal Register Company, the Journal’s owners.
I want hyperlocal done right, with less use of out-of-town journalists and with participation aggressively sought from the local community.
Thing is, zillions of news sources tell you what Barack Obama said yesterday. Precious few, however, can explain in plain English how a new zoning ordinance might affect the value of your home or condo. I’d heartily suggest that newspapers get on this case ASAP before specialized real estate sites and others “scoop” them.
Detail: The TeleRead plan, which would promote the spread of the right hardware for reading books and newspapers, would help. So would cheaper and more widely available broadband. Significantly, Vartan notes: “Online news reading is predominately a labor time activity while offline news reading is primarily a leisure time activity.” Improve the broadband infrastructure and it’ll be easier to enjoy newspapers at home.
Image credit: CC-licensed photo from ArTaide.