O’er the land of the free….
July 4, 2008, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Internet, Journalism, News Industry

Why are print newspapers losing readers to the internet? What does the internet offer you can’t get in print? Is it because people are so intrigued by multimedia they’re leaving the print product? A resounding no. Is it because they want to read 700 newspaper blogs ranging from the profound to the superfluous? No way.

It’s because, on the internet, they can get their news for free.

The daily print paper is, what, 50 cents? Twenty-five in some cities? The price is already telling people the daily paper really isn’t worth that much.

Just make it free.

Seriously. Think how much circulation would increase. Print readership would skyrocket. Think of the spike in advertising revenue versus how much you lose from individual sales. Maybe you still charge a small fee for home delivery (and make that operation — the paper boys — self-sustaining). And I don’t think I should even have to mention here that newspaper websites should be completely free.

Weeklies are already doing this. The Spokesman-Review’s most popular niche products, the Voice sections, are free. College newspapers are free and often make a profit, without a professional advertising staff. Heck, the other two largest news distributors — radio and broadcast TV — offer their product for free to the audience; the audience just needs the means (a receiver) to consume it.

So make the daily paper free. Then, when you have a product that actually offers more than the daily paper — I’m talking the Sunday edition — charge some money. Maybe charge more; show people it’s worth buying. Make it $4 instead of $2 — as long as the quality increases along with the price. Treat it more like a magazine, with more features and news analysis.

The old, stingy business model is gone. It’s dead.


2 Comments so far
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On the business side of things the job of new media is the same as old media: Deliver eyeballs to advertisers. That job falls to those outside of the journalism but is no less important to the success of any “free” media endeavor. Someone has to pay for journalism or there is no “business model.”

Comment by vidiot

I don’t think making print free will solve many problems. Look at weeklies. The Inlander is free, and circulation for it has stalled at about 45,000 in an area of probably up to 700,000. The Stranger, one of the most popular free publications I have seen, has a circulation of almost 90,000 in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area. The Baltimore Sun and The Dallas Morning News are two mainstream dailies that have launched free publications (in addition to papers like RedEye, TribPM in Pittsburgh and Link in Virginia). None of these have really picked up steam – maybe RedEye, but it’s still less than a third of the circulation of its parent paper, the Tribune. Free tabloids are not rising near the prominence of tabloids that are well known.
Maybe if a full, broadsheet daily jumped to free it would be different.
The change in readership away from print comes from a change in dynamic caused by the Internet. The Internet is an information source, and news is right there along with funny cats and videos of people falling. And people can look for different sources of information on the Internet instead of relying on one in paper form.
Making print products free might increase the circulation a bit, but I don’t think it will even offset the cost of circulation.

Comment by beverstine

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