New Owner Of The Washington Post: Print Newspapers Will Be Dead In 20 Years

For a guy who just bought a newspaper, Jeff Bezos wasn't too optimistic about their future less than a year ago.

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Jeff Bezos, who was announced as the new owner of The Washington Post on Monday, told a German newspaper last November that print newspapers had 20 years left:

About one thing I am certain: In twenty years there will be no more printed newspapers. If they do, maybe. Considered a luxury item that allow certain hotels, as extravagant service for their guests. Printed newspapers will no longer be normal in twenty years.

(Original text in German. Translation via Google Translate)

Like Stephen Green, I’ve got to think that 20 years may actually be a bit on the optimistic side. Given the speed with which the Internet has transformed the news business in general and newspapers in particular, and the fact that we’re seeing newspapers in major cities like Cleveland and New Orleans go to a three day a week publishing schedule while newspapers in Chicago and Los Angeles seem unable to find viable purchasers inside of the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy of their owner. Meanwhile, the print business has a whole continues to flounder. Circulation continues to plummet, and advertising revenue has been on a similar downward trend.

The end result seems to be inevitable. Except perhaps for local and hyper-local newspapers, many of which rely on local ad revenue and free availability via the mail and at other public locations. The days of the subscription print newspaper are numbered, though. Before long, we’ll see more major papers fold completely or transition to an online-only existence. Quite likely, papers like the Post and The New York Times will be able to hang on longer than some of their smaller brethren, but eventually they’ll succumb as well. And I think it’s a process that will largely already be complete in a lot less than twenty years.

Which just makes one wonder what kind of future Bezos, the man who transformed shopping in ways that nobody imagined before Amazon came along, has in mind for his new business property.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Media, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    I do think print is likely dead. At least by the current corporate players. (There’s always gonna be someone issuing records on vinyl, so to speak….)

    I also think reading Wapo content in your browser on the world wide web is also dead. I’ve been waiting for a newspaper to take itself off the web and Bezos is just the guy to do it.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Matt Yglesias has a good observation today, it’s not so much that the internet has upset the news industry but that it’s upset advertising.

    It used to be that if you could attract a large audience for your publication, it was relatively easy to translate circulation into advertising dollars. That’s because companies found it very challenging to convey information to the public. Which movies are playing and when and where? Which companies are hiring and for which positions? Who’s got a dining room table he’d like to sell? Which big retailers are offering discounts this weekend and what’s on sale? Television has always been great for major branding campaigns, but making a high-quality TV ad is expensive and time consuming. If you just want people to know some basic information, it’s much faster and more practical to advertise in the local newspaper which updates daily.

    Today a lot of that kind of thing happens on the Internet, but it happens in a whole different way. People search for things on Google. Craig’s List has soaked up the classified advertising market. If Banana Republic has a sale they want to tell you about, they email their list.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Kodak went out of business…but 10% of the photographs ever taken were taken in the last year.
    It’s about adapting and evolving.

  4. Bezos has the same plan he had for Amazon — being flexible and creative without having a road map to where it leads, earning enough revenue to keep going, but without an eye to running up major profits. His core service at Amazon is selling stuff. His core product at WAPO will be reporting and writing on news and politics. I am guessing the way WAPO will evolve under Bezos is in a point, counterpoint or Crossfire mode, without regard to platform. He will be all wing and give the me-wing moral relativists a place as well, not left wing or right wing. Or maybe that is just my hope.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    @C. Clavin: Which is why I can identify for with those who will miss the paper. I have been a photographer for 45 years. I was forced to switch to digital 10+ years ago. I miss film, the silver. I miss my 4×5 view camera and my Hasselblad in spite of the fact my 12 MP digital SLR has more resolution. It’s not the same.

    10% of the photographs ever taken were taken in the last year.

    And most of them were crap[ – it’s too easy to take a photograph. I too am taking more pictures but I’m taking less good ones. I would spend hours setting up to take a picture with the view camera and most of them were good. A little less time with the Hasselblad but still most of them were good. The internet has turned us all into journalists, for the most part really bad ones.

  6. @Ron Beasley:

    Newspaper Association of America data show newspaper print advertising peaked at $49 billion in 2000, bounced around until 2006, and has been dropping like a rock since, plummeting below $19 billion in 2012.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @ Ron…
    Nothing you typed is wrong.
    It appears we have similar backgrounds.
    I was a true curmudgeon…going digital only when I had no other choice.
    My point is that you have to adapt and evolve or die. The only thing that never changes is change…as they say.
    I’m not happy about the state of journalism…which is why I left the business 17 years ago.
    Change or die.
    I think Bezos at the WaPo and Henry in Boston are good indicators of evolution.
    Time will tell.

  8. Tyrell says:

    @Ron Beasley: I have always enjoyed movies on film: 8mm or 16 mm. The local library system gave their 16 mm films away years ago, including many classics and Disney films. I used to have a lot of home movies from the 50’s and 60’s. Our old camera, a Kodak Brownie, is in a closet somewhere. I doubt if film is available for it anymore.

  9. Andy says:

    There is a huge demand for news. Anyone who is reading this right now should understand because people who read blogs are generally news junkies. The only question at this point is: What sustainable business model will meet the demand for news? We don’t know the answer to that yet except that it’s almost certainly not going to be the newspaper model.

    So, Bezos is just stating the obvious. Why, then, buy something that’s dying? Because it has a lot of news assets that Bezos thinks he can turn into a new business model for news. If he succeeds, then he will be much richer and more influential than he already is.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Ron Beasley: I’ve seen the same observation before, but stressing classifieds. I recall a claim that classifieds actually generated more income than retail advertising. Whoever made the observation, their point was that newspapers were failing because they didn’t understand their core business. If they did, instead of Craig’s List we’d have had the NYT List.

  11. rudderpedals says:

    Truth in gVOR’s post. How many of us have placed a classified in the last few years for non-business reasons? Came close only once for me re a paid death notice in the NYT. Expensive but the only remaining useful archiving classifieds I could think of.

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