E-Media Continue to Erode Print Media

Whatever happened to that venerable weekly magazine we all knew as Newsweek?

The magazine was published in the United States from 1933 to Dec. 31, 2012. The cause of its demise was the continued and ever-growing encroachment of e-media into its readership base. Many of us saw this coming.

Changes in Reading Habits

In an article for the E-Commerce Times back in 2008, I wrote, “the fact that mass print media have been around for well over 500 years … does in and of itself lend it an inertia of motion — a familiarity which many of us are hard-pressed (no pun intended) to give up.”

However, it cannot be denied that this inertia seems to be slowing in favor of e-media.

For example, I commonly read several newspapers a day online, including one or two Italian newspapers. Although I still enjoy reading a print newspaper, it’s not at all necessary for me. In fact, based upon the number of newspapers I enjoy reading, it would be burdensome for me, if not expensive, if I were to be carrying around 5 or 6 newspapers. One iPad is sufficient for me.

Obviously, many middle-aged and older readers are enjoying the iPad, Nook, Kindle or any of the other tablets that are available. So one does not have to have grown up with electronic devices in order to enjoy using them.

The Problem With Print Media

The major problem that I see is the fact that print media contain “old” news. For example, upon coming down to breakfast one morning, I was anxious to read the local newspaper about the results of the previous night’s ballgame between the Red Sox and the N.Y. Yankees. I quickly grabbed the sports section and was dismayed that there was no mention of the game in it.

I then rushed to get my iPad and read that the game went into the 11th inning and that the Red Sox had won. Being a New Englander, I was quite pleased with the outcome of the game, but not with the fact that my paper did not have the results in it.

I suppose that if the paper were to have the results in it, it would have had to keep a sports writer and other staff in the office until the ballgame finished. The printing and the delivery of the newspaper would then have been postponed, making it very unlikely that my morning paper would have arrived on time.

Another problem I see with the newspaper is that it is a “static” device. That is, there is no possibility that I can expand my reading of the news by clicking on a portal to the Internet. There is no opportunity to immediately obtain additional written or audio-video data. There is simply no interactivity.

What Are Print Media to Do?

Print media have a very serious, probably terminal, problem. For example, our local newspaper once had two editions: morning and evening. It has been down to one edition for quite a few years now. Additionally, that one edition has become skimpier and skimpier. Its content now relates mostly to in-state happenings with little national or international coverage.

This is obviously a conscious effort on the part of the paper to limit its costs so that it can remain viable and profitable. Simultaneously, it is promoting an online version of the paper that is in the same format as the print edition. I suppose it is trying to convert its print media readers to e-media by making the transition as smooth as possible.

Like most newspapers, it makes the full online version available to print subscribers. So, it’s encouraging for me to see the local paper evolve and witness an apparent change in its business model in order for it to maintain and hopefully grow its subscriber base.

Besides improving and promoting online versions of newspapers, what else can print media do in order to maintain a competitive edge? This is a difficult question to answer with any degree of certainty. I must admit that my personal beliefs about the long-term survival of print media make it difficult for me to come up with any exciting new ideas about changing a paper’s model.

My best guess is that print media should continue to try to “convert” paid subscribers to their e-media publications. This will gradually and inexorably result in decreased production of newspapers and increased online readership. Then, at some predetermined point, a publication can phase out its print version and have a complete transition to its e-media subscribers without cannibalizing its readership base.

If a newspaper is determined to keep its printing division open, I would suggest a once-weekly publication (probably on Sunday) where the newspaper would contain a recap of weekly events with an in-depth analysis and commentary on some of them. In that fashion, it wouldn’t matter as much to the weekly readers that the paper is neither interactive nor current. Such a model would probably be an adjunct to the online version as well as being available to its online subscribers.

This might satisfy the reader who likes to pick up an actual newspaper on Sunday and read it to his/her heart’s content. One redeeming factor in such a paper is also that if it were not read in a timely fashion, it would still contain in-depth analyses and commentary that is relatively timeless.

That said, I’m not going to rush to invest in print media.

Theodore F. di Stefano is a founder and managing partner at Capital Source Partners, which provides a wide range of investment banking services to the small and medium-sized business. He is also a frequent speaker to business groups on financial and corporate governance matters. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow Theodore F. di Stefano on Twitter.

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