The last couple of weeks have been telling ones for the print media world, specifically newspapers.
Mike Hughes, the highly regarded chief creative at the Martin Agency, which handles the Newspaper Association as an account, wrote an Ad Age column imploring advertising agencies to come to the rescue and support newspapers with much-needed advertising.
Late last week, The New York Times threatened to shut down the Boston Globe unless the unions willingly delivered major concessions in pay and benefits. The Globe lost $50 million last year and is on track to lose $85 million this year.
And finally, in a combination of hope and desperation, the print lovers among us posted and shared designer Jacek Utko’s argument – delivered in an optimistic six-minute speech at a recent TED conference — that great design can save the newspaper industry. (Of course that’s more an indication of how much the creative community wants to cheer for design than how much it actually believes that better design can alter the inevitable.)
I have been a dedicated and loyal newspaper reader for over 40 years. I went to journalism school, worked as a newspaper reporter briefly, and ended up in advertising as a result of my love for the print medium. I’ve had the Magazine Publishers Association as a client. I participate in #editorchat on Twitter on Wednesday nights. I’ve even read New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati’s keynote address at this years’ CASE Editor’s Forum. So I know that the typical cover story in the magazine costs upwards of $40,000 to report and write, far more if it’s set in a war zone.
Still, this past weekend, I once again didn’t pay for my Sunday New York Times. I didn’t walk to the center of town, hand over $5.00 and carry home the four pounds of newsprint filled with arguably the world’s best and most expensive reporting.
Instead I did what I do every other day of the week. I read the magazine, the book review and much of the front page online. I even forwarded articles to friends and posted links on Twitter.
And because the Times, like most newspapers, created a flawed online model that was supposed to be paid for by ad revenue –which we now know can’t even come close to covering costs – I got all the same content offered in the newspaper for free.
So what’s going to happen? If this keeps up, newspapers, along with circulation revenue and what little advertising remains, will disappear. Online advertising revenue will never cover the cost of $40,000 long format journalism pieces.
Mike Hughes is half right. We can live without the physical paper. But we do need the high quality, objective content that fills the best of them. And what we need even worse is for someone to figure out how to pay for it.
In the meantime, if the New York Times sends me an e-bill every week for $5.00, I’ll be more than glad to transfer funds from my account to theirs.