The Nine Lives of Newspapers

They're Not Going Anywhere Yet

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
Not long ago, I was part of a panel discussion about the death of the 30-second TV spot. I also wrote about it as part of the Small Agency Diary. Short version: I don't believe TV commercials are dying. This week, I'm speaking to another media audience that is worried about its future: newspaper executives. Two similar topics in two weeks. That's quite a relevant commentary on the state of the media business today. People see death everywhere. So many media in flux; so many new ones storming onto the scene.

What I have to say about the newspaper industry, however, likely runs counter to what many in our industry think and predict. I actually believe the newspaper industry is highly entrepreneurial -- at least a lot of the new owners are. And those owners will figure out ways to run a successful business.

We all know that most newspapers are experiencing monthly declines in advertising and circulation. However, many of the readers are now captured online in the newspapers' websites, where the content is current, often compelling, and the writing and presentation gets better every day. So as readers migrate from the paper format, they migrate to the digital one. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

The new environment for the paper version is also creating opportunities for advertisers. Unique ad formats are now commonplace, where once they were objects of disdain. This creativity is attracting, and retaining, advertisers.

Newspapers are also being challenged to come up with products and promotions that keep them relevant to consumers. Specialty magazines, for example, are rolling off the presses, leveraging the newspapers' editorial staff and distribution channels. And all kinds of promotions are driving readers to take notice of newspapers again. For example, my hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, just created and sponsored a national Sudoku puzzle competition, where contestants from all over the country came to Philly to compete for prizes. The paper got high visibility for hosting the contest, and I would imagine they own the right to extend the brand into other content properties and promotions if they choose to do so. Would the Inquirer have done that 10 years ago?

Finally, the newspaper business is still a good business. Most newspapers run a profitable operation. And there are a couple of generations around who will continue to walk out to their driveway to pick up the morning newspaper and read it with a cup of coffee. The tangible aspect of that will keep readers engaged for many years to come.

My point is that innovation and a keen sense of competition will win the day for newspapers. Sure, one day soon, their online operations will overtake their paper ones. But what's wrong with that?
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