A newspaper resurrection

The world’s oldest still-published newspaper, Sweden’s Post- och Inrikes Tidningar, founded in 1645, is going out of print today. But it’s not dying. It’s moving to the web. Before we read too much into this for the fate of newspapers around the world, note that this was a paper carrying official announcements, bankruptcies, and such. It’s not the Aftonbladet.

In various year-end prognostications, some have been predicting that a major paper will cease publication and shift to the internet this year: see Scott Karp and Wired. Howard Owens disagrees and so do I. It will come, but not yet, for there is still profit to be made in print and sluggish advertisers still aren’t ready to support the new medium — even if that’s where their customers are — and shut-down costs remain high. I think that within, say, five years, we could see a paper make a strategic move entirely online. But if such a shift comes in the meantime, I think it will be the result of bankruptcy, not strategy: Just as some magazines have folded but supposedly lived on online, so will we see this as a last-ditch effort to keep a brand and business alive.

What’s more likely, I think, is that someone will come along and start a new news business online, backed by venture or mogul money, that competes with and perhaps even kills an old-style publication with far lower costs and greater efficiency and — thanks to networked journalism — greater reach of coverage. In short: local Googles. I think we’re focusing too much on the old entities of an industry and not enough on the industry as a whole: The big, old companies failed to own the new world online; they were passed by new ventures. I expect to see new news ventures starting.

[Disclosure: Though I’m involved in a new news venture, Daylife, but I’m not including it in this prognostication; I’m talking about new, local reporting and news-gathering-and-sharing enterprises.]

: See also Lucas Grindley and Owens having a good argument in the comments here.

: See also David Carr sittin’ round the ol’ cracker barrel today reminiscin’ about the good ol’ days when everybody started the day readin’ newspapers.

As I sat at the kitchen table, I marveled at the low price of a newspaper that had once preoccupied the conversation around my dinner table. Then I looked at the four papers on the table and the empty chairs that surrounded them. Before my second cup of coffee, the rest of my household had already started the day in a way that had nothing to do with the paper artifacts in front of me. Maybe I was the greater fool.

Kinda sad, eh?