This is my last post in the series. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I want to wrap-up by looking at the newspaper industry from the perspective of the all important reader. Most people I talk to about the state of newspapers have a clear opinion - the majority believe newspapers will survive this period of turmoil. Many of them tell me that the newspapers survived the impact of radio and television and they will survive the Internet. As you can tell by the title of this post I don’t agree. But, no matter what they say, or the reasons they give me, I can’t help but think, that most of us just can’t imagine a world without the comfort of a newspaper.
The Newspaper Reading Experience
Like many people, I enjoy while still in pjs sitting down on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and one or even two newspapers. Some days it goes on for hours. Between breakfast and the paper(s), before you know it it’s almost lunch time. It’s an experience that can’t yet be beat. There’s no arguing the numerous benefits of the print paper format - portability, archive-ability and so on.
However, greater access to news has changed our need for the daily paper. With the Internet at home, at work and now on the road, we can get a quick hit of the news at any time. In addition, we lead busier lives and most of us can’t find the time to read the paper during the week. We’re spending more and more time traveling and working, and the weekend is the only time we have to even try to read the newspaper.
As a consequence, there’s no doubt in my mind that the weekday editions of most newspapers will not exists in 5 to 10 years. As for the weekend editions, it will take longer for them to disappear. Few people, if any under the age of 25 are reading the paper with the frequency or passion of those of my generation. Once the baby boomers are gone, who will be left to enjoy the weekend paper reading experience?
Readers are not yet fully aware of the impact that newspapers have on the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters of any industry in the country. The impact is tremendous, from the billions of trees that are cut down each year, to the energy used to harvest and transport them to the mills. Compound that with the energy used to transport the paper to the presses and for the printing process; let’s not forget delivering it to your door or newspaper box.
I know that many of the trees that are cut down for paper are grown in farms that are well managed. I also know each day more and more paper is being recycled. But, the reality is that though certain aspects of the industry are improving, the full ecological impact far outweighs the benefits when there are alternatives that generate far less impact. At some point, the public will assess the environmental impact of the industry as irresponsible and act accordingly.
I don’t think anyone disagrees with the fact that reading a print newspaper is much more convenient then reading on a computer. But, what if E-Ink technology finally delivers? And it soon will. We’re not far from the day where we will have large screen format mobile reading devices. They will allow us to read any web site via; Wi-Fi, WiMAX or high speed mobile telephone networks.
E-Ink readers are already here, but today’s devices like the Sony Reader and Amazon’s Kindle are targeted at the book reading market. New devices, such as the ReadiUS pictured above, will be more general in function, have longer battery lives and will support multiple wireless formats. As these devices are introduced they will quickly be adopted. Imagine reading anything, including the news, in your back yard on a bright sunny day for hours - how will print papers compete then? They won’t.
The Most Important Newspaper Reader
In the end, I don’t think the fate of newspapers will be dependent solely on the reading experience, lack of time, the environment or technology. I think the survival of the newspapers rests primarily in the hands of its most important readers. Those readers are the shareholders – whose focus is on reading the annual report. They understandably want their newspapers to continue to generate profits. Unfortunately, that’s at the risk of everything else.
Nearly 7 years ago, when working for Canoe / Sun Media, I attended a newspaper conference and while walking through the exhibits, I noticed a very interesting hand written poster. It went something like this…
“If the train companies of the early 20th century had understood that they were in the transportation business and not in the railway business they would have survived.”
That message stuck with me, and for years I worked to get the digital division and the print divisions to cooperate and realize they were in the same business – media – better yet, communications. Neither side would have anything to do with it. Each division had their own bottom line and that was paramount.
The reality is newspaper organizations don’t see themselves as media or communications companies. They are, and will remain newspaper companies until the last paper comes rolling off the press – and then just like the trains of old, we will fondly remember them and what they could have been, had they grasped an important but fundamental notion – change.