Three nails, one coffin

Line by line, newspapers’ businesses are falling apart as they shrink and become less efficient for advertisers against the competition and reach of online. Consider:

* Coupon giant Valassis abandons newspaper distribution for the postal service in three more markets. Says Crains: “The move represents the acknowledgement that newspaper circulation is on the decline and advertising clients want to continue to reach as many people they can in markets with shrinking newspaper coverage.”

This is significant for two reasons: First, consider that a primary reason papers are reducing frequency but maintaining print editions a few days a week is that they can still make money by distributing coupons and circulars. Second, readers value those coupons. I’ve told the story before of my time as Sunday editor of the NY Daily News when we regained coupons after a strike and circulation jumped more than 100,000 – that is, those readers were buying ads, not news. So this becomes a vicious cycle: the more papers shrink, the more value they lose and the more value they lose the more they shrink.

Coupons and circulars are media and they merely use newspapers as distribution vehicles. When they can be distributed online, for free, then the distribution business will fade away.

* Next, newspapers are starting to lose movie listing ads. That advertising used to be content with value – like, say, home and job ads – but now that value can be delivered online, for free – next to a ticket sales opportunity – online. There go a few more dollars and a bit more value.

* Newspapers were smart to start an online company to serve their ghoulish but lucrative line of business in death notices, Legacy.com. But now it has a competitor in Tributes.com. And I wonder how long either of them can continue to convince people that they need an obit service when any web page will do.

None of these, in and of itself, is a killing blow to papers. Just three more dull blows to the kidney.

  • steve

    so “coupon giant valassis” is now just junkmail giant valassis?

    newspaper circ. really took it on the chops when telemarketers tanked with the advent of do not call, how about newspapers now banding together to save the mailbox and promote a do not mail list?

    seems fair to me

  • http://www.brianmckimcomedy.com Brian McKim

    Don’t some municipalities REQUIRE the family of the deceased to buy an obit? I think I remember hearing this when my father died… and again when my mother died.

    I was appalled when I heard it.

    It is indeed sad that I found it to be believable.

    It would be nice to have these laws wiped from the books.

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  • http://www.hopwood.co.uk @hopwood

    You’re right. Little by little, everything newspapers delivered is being delivered elsewhere. You can read my take on the fate of newspapers at http://www.hopwood.co.uk/wordpress/?paged=10

    • Bob P.

      The same problem you describe — editorial content slipping in quality in order to appease/attract/flatter advertisers — is and will be one of the biggest challenges for any digital news effort. If these indeed turn out to be free to users and must generate all of their revenue from ads, it’s going to be ever harder for some of them to stand their ground when an advertiser squawks about something, let alone resist the temptation to write (er … produce content) that is at least partly designed to lure advertisers.

    • Andy Freeman

      > If these indeed turn out to be free to users and must generate all of their revenue from ads, it’s going to be ever harder for some of them to stand their ground when an advertiser squawks about something, let alone resist the temptation to write (er … produce content) that is at least partly designed to lure advertisers.

      The above suggests that this is a new problem. It isn’t, and isn’t restricted to advertising.

      CNN is on record about “shading” content from Hussein’s Iraq to curry favor. Hussein never bought ads. And no, that’s not unique – it’s how the press works.

      In fact, CNN/Iraq is actually a high point in journalistic “integrity”. A huge fraction of the DC press corp is involved with the folks they cover. It takes a “journalist” to believe that that doesn’t matter.

      I do wonder why journalism’s defenders think that it’s a good idea to point to bad things that their “opponents” do when they’re even worse by the same criteria.

      • Bob P.

        Actually I didn’t mean to suggest in the slightest that it was a new problem. In his own blog post, linked to above, Hopwood says the blurring of the vaunted wall between advertising and editorial is part of the reason for newspapers’ decline. I think we’re in agreement actually. This is a problem of journalism, not of newspapers.

  • Tex Lovera

    Jeff-

    Were you being sarcastic when you said about coupons, “When they can be distributed online, for free…”? Because we’ve been getting quite a few of them via email, for months at least.

    I guess when the car dealers finally forsake them, that should prove to be the coup de grace.

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