Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The slow death of the newspaper

I'm been periodically boring people with my view that newspapers are slowly dying, and that those that survive will only live on as content providers.

We can see the latest iteration of this trend with yesterday's announcement that Fairfax - who publish the two big 'serious' east coast metro papers  - the SMH in Sydney and The Age in Melbourne - is to sack staff, close printing plants and take the newspapers tabloid.

Taking the newspapers tabloid is nothing special. Le Monde, the Times in London, or the Guardian are in no way diminished by being published in a smaller format. In fact being easier to manage may even be a plus.

Some newspapers have collapsed around the time they went tabloid - eg the Scotsman in Edinburgh, but that is more a coincidence of management and ownership changes, and the collapse in reader numbers that all papers have suffered.

Sacking staff is more serious. Newspapers like the Times in London and the Guardian are hanging on due to their commitment to good journalism. Now it is perfectly possible to produce a serious newspaper similar to the Bangkok Post by taking syndicated quality journalism from overseas and adding local content, but the point is quality.

In the case of the Bangkok Post its value is providing local English language reportage to the local English speaking community. In the case of the Age and the SMH it's exactly the same - whatever is brought in from overseas has to be complimented with Australian journalism of the same quality if for no other reason than the need to provide context.

The most serious is the closure of printing plants. Fairfax really is saying 'game over'. They have obviously made the call that they no longer can justify the cost of these expensive state of the art facilities purely because the print volume is no longer there to support them. And of course once print is outsourced its easier to reduce and eventually close the print edition.

And in the meantime print has just becomes another format generated out of the content management system, just as the newspapers Facebook page, web site, app content and so on is ...

And here's the rub. As the iPad has between 65% and 70% of the tablet market and due to Apple's provision of a subscription and payment management service paid for digital content is almost exclusively on the iPad.

There are apps on Android - for example the Irish Times and the Guardian, and I am more than happy to admit to using them, but what they don't give is the richer experience some of the iPad apps give with full content

I don't have a problem with newspapers being digital first. I don't have a problem with subscribing to them. I do have a problem with their being on the iPad exclusively, if for no other reason that I don't own such a device.

This isn't luddism on my part - my having evernote on my no name Chinese tablet has freed me from carrying stacks of papers to meetings and scads of documentation. I do object however to having to spend six hundred bucks to buy a device to read a newspaper that costs me nine bucks a week as a subscriber to have delivered ...

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