To Survive in a Digital World, Newspapers Must Shift Radically – or Face Extinction

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Alan Levy

by Alan Levy

Seth Godin makes many relevant points in his recent blog post entitled “Watching the Times Struggle and What You Can Learn.”  The marketing guru has come up with a series of innovative suggestions for The New York Times as they confront the most challenging environment in their history.

While there are no doubt many things the newspaper of record can do to stem its losses, can it be enough to offset the enormous structural gap between their online advertising revenues and their offline revenue model?

In my view, the answer is no.

In a recent article by The Times‘ own David Carr, David clearly explains that the revenue CPMs generated by is a fraction of the dollars generated by home delivery, advertisements in the actual paper and newsstand sales.  He goes on to say, “Newspapers, which began the race with a huge lead in terms of human assets, may end up just another part of the under-informed commodity of clutter.”

This problem is not simply limited to The Times; it’s one that’s impacting most major newspaper and magazine.

Please consider this: I still have The Times delivered to my home in New Jersey each morning. In fact, I am changing my delivery service to weekend only, simply because I never open the newspaper during the week, though I do enjoy the experience of reading the Sunday edition. That being said, back when when I subscribed to home delivery of a daily paper, I had two choices: The Bergen Record and The Times.  TWO CHOICES!

On the web, of course, I not only have hundreds (if not thousands) of responsible news outlets to consume much of the same content that appears in The Times, but I can read a more updated version of the paper for free from their site or via RSS – or even through my twitter alerts. Do I need to visit to read about Citibank’s recent bailout, or can I visit any number of world-class sites vying for my page view?

Again, newspapers have cannibalized their own base by offering the same content for free – and in a more timely manner – on their websites. Can they do anything different? Can they charge for this online content, much like The Wall Street Journal did prior to being acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.?

The answer is of course no. But this is precisely why The Times will need a major structural change to survive. Today, online news is a commodity and The Times, The Journal and every other major publication will ultimately look at themselves in the mirror and completely change the way they report news.

There is no turning back.

2 thoughts on “To Survive in a Digital World, Newspapers Must Shift Radically – or Face Extinction

  1. Clarisel

    I agree. Newspapers have to reinvent themselves dramatically. Generally, too many newspapers also never responded to calls to diverse their staffs and coverage, leaving whole communities voiceless. Online media has provided the opportunity for more voices and that is great.

  2. I Got My Reasons

    The Times will survive because it’s product is the best available; and it has already changed what it offers: there is far more information and lifestyle stuff, even video and sound, on their website… all of which the print edition ACTIVELY promotes. The idea that the Times will wither somehow while pursuing aggressive changes like this is incorrect, especially since its CONTENT is what they “sell” (through advertising revenue).

    I’d submit another model to all the marketing people out there who still cling to the “killer app” idea: CONTENT. The media has changed to the point that anyone can make a play to compete with the big boys; the only trouble is there is rarely a “there” there. Conversely if you have great content it could be scrawled on a piece of cardboard and still get atttention. The web has shocked and amazed us all since its inception but one thing has been consistent: conventional thinking always loses! As someone with some familiarity of the Times online development strategy, they are unlikely to be out-paced or out-spent on staying ahead of the curve anytime soon.

    Peace and happy Thanksgiving.

    (and listen to my show!!)


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