Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The End of the Automobile?
Just an observation to keep things in perspective:
When the American auto industry goes belly up, no one talks about the end of the automobile. They talk about poor corporate management in Detroit.
By comparison, when the newspaper industry starts losing readers and revenue, the end of the newspaper can't be far behind.
The difference, of course, is in the alternatives. Online news amounts to the equivalent of a fleet of volunteer chauffeurs patrolling city streets, stopping beside anyone fumbling for their car keys and helpfully offering a lift.
But online news is only free on the consumption end, mainly because of an early adapter rush to lower entry barriers to readership in order to establish brand loyalty. That will ultimately change, whether through subscription walls and/or adapted advertising models. And when it does, the revenue picture will improve dramatically, because the thirst for news is obviously greater than ever (for reasons that I'm not sure are necessarily healthy).
I'm also convinced that once the complementary roles of print and online editions have been more formally established, a residual demand for print will survive. It's a different reading experience, with different functions in terms of how and what kind of information is delivered. We're still very much in a transition period, where the vast majority of newsrooms are trying to actively evolve their operations on the fly. But the range of alternative models is increasingly taking shape, and that will lower transformation costs and facilitate the process for those that follow.
Meanwhile, newspapers are still by and large profitable, something that is left out of the doom and gloom forecasts. Which means that the ones that aren't managed like the Big Three auto companies will live to see another day.