Amid speculation the San Francisco Chronicle is struggling, Robert Scoble has waded into the discussion by declaring newspapers are dead. Robert, I hate to call you on it but you’re wrong. You’re wrong to make a broad generalization that newspapers aren’t starting to embrace the Web, you’re wrong to assume newspapers are going the way of the do-do bird.
Part of Scoble’s problem is he’s really not representative of the general public and he’s basing his thesis on what’s happening in his own backyard. First, Scoble’s a geek (and that’s not meant to be a criticism). Like a lot of tech savvy people, I suspect he gets most, if not all, of his news online so I’d be surprised he subscribed to a newspaper. Second, San Francisco’s newspaper market has been struggling for years, which I guess would lead many people in Silicon Valley to assume the newspaper business, in general, is struggling.
Truth be told, newspapers have lost readers to the Web and circulation has been under pressure. But the industry is still selling millions of papers a day. In some markets such as Toronto and London, the newspaper industry is thriving with a variety of dailies battling for attention. Then, you’ve got the free daily explosion happening around the world.
For people into statistics, consider this: according to the World Association of Newspapers, 450 million newspapers a day are sold around the world; free daily circulation doubled between 2001 and 2005 to 28 million; newspaper circulation in North America and Europe has increased 0.7% and 2.12% respectively over the past five years – most of it probably due to free dailies such as Metro.
And newspapers are changing their stripes, albeit not as fast as they probably should. If you look at the National Post over the past six months, it has aggressively embraced the Web with the launch of more blogs and making more content available online. Meanwhile, the Globe & Mail expects to have 100,000 comments in March. And you have to admire how major players such as the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post are pushing hard online to complement their strong print presences.
One of the biggest flaws in the newspapers are dead argument is the assumption that the print format is going away. This simply isn’t accurate. What’s really happening is newspapers are evolving into multi-media entities that use newsprint and the Web (text, podcasts, blogs and, fairly soon, video) to reach out to readers and advertisers.
Unlike Scoble, I don’t see the future of newspapers as doom and gloom – a viewpoint that may come from spending more than 15 years as a daily newspaper journalist. Newspapers aren’t dead; they’re just changing with the times.
Note: Someone who gets the future of newspapers is Dave Winer, who offered up some solid counsel on what newspapers need to do. Doc Serles has a few suggestions for how newspapers can save themselves, while Mathew Ingram makes a great point that there’s too much focus on “papers” when people look at the future of newspaper publishers.