I’ve said that if I owned a newspaper, I’d sell it (in fact, a prospective student at CUNY just quoted that back to me last night). And now Floyd Norris writes a column in the Times (behind the barbed wire; sorry) asking who would buy one.
There is a venerable Wall Street joke featuring an investor who, having accumulated a large position in an illiquid stock, decides it is time to get out. “Yes, sir,” replies the broker when he is told to sell. “To whom?”
The current situation of Knight Ridder, the owner of newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Miami Herald, brings back that joke, albeit painfully….
Mr. Sherman’s problem is one known by many investors who look for cheap stocks: where they see value, others see problems. The consensus Wall Street view of newspapers now is that they are a dying breed, destined to wither under relentless competition from the likes of Google. Profits may be good now, but they will not last, as circulation declines and advertisers seek newer media. An index of newspaper stocks is down 22 percent in 2005.
As long as newspapers keep thinking of themselves as papers, they will shrink. Guaranteed. The question is whether they are the best positioned to get to the other side, to the future of news, and whether they can afford to get there. More on that later….
The American Press Institute puts $2 million into a project to find new business models for newspapers but I think they make a few mistakes: First, it’s not about new models for newspapers; it’s about new models for news. Second, the august group they gather for the task, though smart and experienced, are all from the big companies and the old ways. The newspaper industry’s worst fault is that it is insular and rejects new blood. This would have been a chance to find new people (and no, I don’t mean me) who are doing new things in new ways. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where the new models are going to come from, not from the old ways.
: Rafat Ali’s take here. And Rafat’s just the kind of person who should be in this thing.
: LATER: Nancy Wang says:
… the project goals also entail an “assessment of the threat to newspapers, including emerging competition”. Call it semantics, but this line of thinking continues to be insular. Instead of thinking about threats to newspapers, they should be thinking about learning (maybe even partnering) with the emerging competition that seems to be taking away their audiences.
Right. It’s not about the threats to newspapers.
It’s about the opportunties for journalism.
Two quotables on this thing we call a newspaper. This one from ArtDodger in the comments on my post below on imploding newspaper circulation:
This business of pureeing trees and wringing cuttlefish to make the day’s transient news permanent seems positively archaic, doesn’t it?
This one from a comment on Attytood [via Porter]
It’s a product you have to go and get in the rain, snow or wind and pull out of the hedge, the leaves or a coin-eating box on a dirty street corner. It’s heavy. It’s big. You’re not interested in 90% of its content. And when you’re done with it, you — literally — have to wash your hands and figure out how to properly dispose of the thing.
: More newspaper quotes here, here, and here. Among them:
Half the American population no longer reads newspapers: plainly, they are the clever half. — Gore Vidal
People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news. — A.J. Liebling
It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper. — Jerry Seinfeld
The Audit Bureau of Circulations is coming out with its report on newspaper popularity (what else should we call sales) and it’s going to be bad. The Wall Street Journal (free link) sums up the numbers:
: Gannett down 2.5 percent
: Knight Ridder down 2.9 percent
: Tribune Company down 4 percent (not including scandal-scarred Newsday)
More numbers from E&P:
: “McClatchy is breaking its 20-year winning streak this period. Daily circulation dropped around 1% while there was a “steeper decline” on Sunday.”
: Knight Ridder’s breakdown: down 2 percent daily, 3.5 percent Sunday.
: Belo’s Dallas Morning News: down 7 percent.
: Providence Journal down 2 percent.
: Riverside Press-Enterprise down 3 percent daily, 4 percent Sunday.
: Boston Globe down 7.7 percent daily, 7 percent Sunday.
: NYTimes up 0.4 percent daily, 0.1 percent Sunday. “The increases came mostly from the paper’s national effort. Circulation for the New York City area declined.
: Notable quotes above.