Yes, Virginia, print is in trouble.

As evident in these charts for newspapers and magazines, is that circulation revenue has fallen of a cliff.   The analysis and consensus by the newspaper industry is that 1) the decline is all Google’s fault then 2) the dirty effing bloggers steal their content and that 3) the product that they produce is of sufficient quality that people will pay.  This requires totally ignoring a secular trend away from print that likely started with cable news and has worsened since the internet’s inception and will accelerate as mobile use increases.  This analysis in turn has resulted in moves to place content behind a walled garden,  accessed via paywall.

Throwing up a pay wall might not be Rupert Murdoch’s worst idea, provided that #3 is true. 

I am personally unmoved by the argument, as there will be ample equivalent substitutes that are far from inferior goods.  (The WSJ is a special case because of their demographic, and doesn’t typify the content of most papers).  I don’t know if an industry obsessed with subscribers will be able to divorce themselves from an ideology where ‘being better requires more’.  You can count on a decline in traffic by all metrics post-paywall – but what about the value of those subscribers?

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The Financial Times does this now, although I believe they are a special case, like the WSJ.  One can still be profitable with fewer readers if they are ‘better readers’ – which implies more revenue per reader.

Putting an ad in front of a male CEO for tampons doesn’t have much value.  Displaying an ad for a new payroll contractor knowing that the same CEO has been working on replacing a vendor (divined via seach history, email content, and the like) does have value.   Providing an avenue for said CEO to engage with the vendor, facilitated by the ‘paper’ is exponentially useful.  Even if we are just looking at putting ads in front of eyeballs, I suspect the demographic difference is between a person who buys a paper at the news stand versus home delivery versus free internet consumption versus online subscriber is statistically significant and relevant to top line growth.

The challenge for papers is twofold – selling subscriptions to readers for online content and justifying increased rates on a smaller audience to subscribers.  What may work for smaller papers may not be viable for larger publishers…