Monday, November 2nd, 2009

et alS, with Cord Jefferson: Newspapers Are Doing As Badly As You Think

et alSOh, look! Ha ha ha. Slate's been at it hard this last week with the counterintuitiveness. That's Slate's "thing," you know, much like there's always one guy at the dinner party whose "thing" is to go on and on about how Mein Kampf is "actually very lucid." Last week, the band Creed was good, instead of being unlistenable Jesus-growling for hockey moms. Then? Newspapers were fine! That's right, newspapers-those shuttering, bankrupt, decreasingly-staffed things everyone throws in the garbage as soon as they get to the top of the subway steps-"aren't doing as badly as you think." Hmmmmmmm.

"Chillax, people," wrote Daniel Gross, who also works for Newsweek, a newsmagazine that fired lots of people last year before cutting its page count. "I can't help but think that many newspaper-doomsayers are conflating hope with analysis." Which brings us to our first problem: Based on this article, it would seem Gross believes there are actual Internet monsters-"newspaper-doomsayers," "digerati," etc.-cackling and blogging with glee every time a newsroom loses an editor. Mentioning the latest abysmal newspaper circulation statistics, he says "newspaper haters" must be joyous.

Newspaper haters is a group of people that doesn't really exist, but, even if it did, it wouldn't be composed of people in Internet media. Those people, if they don't occasionally do odd jobs for papers and magazines themselves, have close friends who do. Close friends who, if unemployed, are going to have nowhere to look for work but the Internet. In other words, a blogger who roots for print's demise is actually rooting for his pals to be fired and come steal his job. Nobody does that. Daniel Gross is projecting, arguing that the newspaper die-off is made up by making up some silly animosity on the part of the Web.

Next, this awful bit:

First of all, there's nothing ipso facto shocking about a decline in patronage of 10 percent in six months…. Consumers have cut back sharply on all sorts of expenditures. There are plenty of members of what I call the 40 percent club: businesses, many tethered to finance and credit, that have seen sales plummet by nearly one-half. These include automobiles, homes, luxury apparel, and diamonds. Many other components of consumer discretionary spending-hotels, restaurants, air travel-have fallen off significantly. Do we draw a line from trends over the last few years and declare that in 15 years there will be only a handful of hotels?

Uh, no, Daniel. You're right. We don't look at business trends in diamonds and hotels the way we look at trends in newspapers, mostly because those things are completely different from one another. Tell you what: when Apple comes out with hotel rooms you can make with your cell phone at the touch of a button, for free, I will literally attempt to put the whole Eiffel Tower in my ass (also, HOORAY! No more homelessness). Until then, I can't stress this enough: hotel rooms are different from newspapers.

Gross wraps things up with some heinous data noodling, telling everyone to look to Gannett for proof newspapers can still make money: "In the first three quarters of 2009, advertising revenues were off 31.6 percent, but circulation revenues were off less than 5 percent, even though many of Gannett's flagship papers lost subscribers." Great news! I mean, doesn't this independent researcher looking into Gannett's finances sound absolutely ecstatic: "[T]hird quarter performance wasn't as bad as I was expecting." So exciting.

Anyway, according to Gross, all newspaper companies need to start following Gannett's model, which is to cut costs and raise prices (i.e. fire people and then expect consumers to pay more for a less excellent product). This is literally the exact same advice this fake-ass Gordon Gekko recommends when trying to get rich off the laundromat business.

And there you have it: newspapers are like the laundromats, and they're both like hotels and diamonds. The end?

Cord Jefferson is a writer-editor living in Brooklyn and The Awl's Special Correspondent for Slate's Counterintuitiveness. Some of his other work has appeared in National Geographic, GOOD, The Root and on MTV.

13 Comments / Post A Comment

hockeymom (#143)

um. I hate Creed.

KarenUhOh (#19)

"I write for Slate, so I don't get paid chillox to write this crap. But I did subscribe to a Holiday Inn Express last night."

mkrotov (#1,740)

Much more of this please!

Hamilton (#122)

That was an unusually stupid Daniel Gross column.

rolandcrosby (#1,480)

This is great. I really hope it's the beginning of a regular feature.

maebefunke (#154)

diamond encrusted new yorker cartoons? those would sell like hotcakes.

Aloysius (#1,808)

What is the first step you would have to take to literally put the entire Eiffel Tower up your ass?

katiebakes (#32)

Sideways, definitely.

davidwatts (#72)

I think there's something to the point that newspapers aren't close to immediately fading into the mists, Brigadoon-style, but not these points. Like libraries and fire departments, I think newspapers are not the best money-making ventures in 2009. Make them non-profits. Or just don't expect (ie, take out loans on the assumption that) to make any money on them.

yankeepeach (#2,116)

No,seriously. Be like Gannett? Dude, Gannett is not the solution, Gannett is the problem.

DudeStar (#2,122)

Can we take a step back, and look at the facts?

In every state I have checked, their #1 LOCAL website is the newspaper with the highest daily circulation. In my home state of Minnesota, the StarTribune sells 490,000 Sunday newspapers (according to the 2009 October Audit) and their website registered 6.2 million unique users. Compared to the THE AWL – with a whopping 64,644 – and you can see why newspapers are not threatened by little blogger dudes like 'Cord'. Besides, Cord somehow thinks the 490,000 people still buying the newspaper aren't reading it. They are simply playing with 'Cord's' head.

The problem for newspapers is monetizing it in this economy not the audience numbers. Check any independent web traffic site to verify.

I laughed last week when NBC News lead with the decline in newspaper circulation of 10% while ignoring the hemorrhaging of viewers they are experiencing (38 million to 7 million over the last 15 years). They forgot to mention the newspaper readers went to the respective website of their local newspaper.

ALL traditional media is getting hammered – radio, yellow pages, television, shared mail, and solo mail.
But unlike these other traditional media, newspapers are actually GROWING their audience.

So dudes like 'Cord' should do a little more research before speculating on the future of the newspaper industry. There are 1,480 dailies in the US and 17 have filed bankruptcy.

Face it…in 10 years the only advertising vehicles left standing will be mobile, HD TV hooked directly to the internet and the Sunday newspaper.

Otherwise Cord…dude…. it was like a TOTALLY far out analysis!

spouter (#2,124)

Just for the record, Star Tribune emerged from $480 Million bankruptcy one short month ago, with $100 Million new debt AND new ownership: it's lenders.

Great point, DudeStar- however banal- "The problem for newspapers is monetizing it in this economy." (I'm assuming you're referring to web-generated income.) But, exactly how do you see that playing out at the STrib? Oh! Oh! Glen Taylor could arrange exclusives with the TWolves!! Or are you hoping Opperman will get a seat? He could help attract advertisers by making it a more… pleasant publication?? Or a more pleasant workplace environment for employees, already fearing job loss, by imposing non-compete clauses???

Maybe dudes like 'DudeStar' should do a little more analyses on their own research before they try to say something meaningful. I suggest taking another step back, look at the facts, make a graph, draw a diagram, employ some cross-textual analyses, think about it another four to six days… then post.

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