Newspapers Driving Readers to Web at Expense of Print Editions

Jeff Jarvis is excited by news from London:

The Guardian just announced that it will publish stories online before it publishes them in print. Now on the one hand, that may not seem like a big deal. Quality papers like The New York Times and the Washington Post have long had good continuous news desks that feed the online maw with the latest (and too many other papers do not bother). And some papers, like The Times and the Wall Street Journal, put up their complete papers soon after they close late at night. [See my full disclosures here.]

But I think the Guardian’s move of releasing newspaper stories before they release the newspaper is a very big deal that it will end up transforming the business.

He explicates them in great detail. Most notably, as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger observed a few days ago, “Can you imagine east coast Americans logging onto Guardian Unlimited this morning and finding nothing on Zarkawi? Why would we want to drive them elsewhere?” Jarvis believes, “That, after all, is the key to online. It lets you serve a much larger but still focused public (once newspapers themselves focus).”

Andrew Sullivan agrees, as do I, with Jarvis’ assessment, although he Jarvis may be going too far in unspecified ways.

Ultimately, this move in inevitable. Even though my “local paper” is the Washington Post, a truly superb paper by any reasonable standard and dirt cheap to boot, I don’t take it except for the Sunday edition–and that only for coupons and sales circulars. Indeed, I consistently refuse offers to get the other six days for free because I found I never read it. I do, however, read several stories in the online edition virtually every single day.

Newspaper Circulation Figures March 2006 I’m not alone. The latest industry survey shows that most papers are continuing to have declining circulation for their print editions while their online versions are booming.

That’s not surprising. The Web is the dominant media at the office now and number two at home behind television. The Internet has essentially obviated paperbound encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference books. Why not newspapers?

The principal product of the New York Times, the Guardian, and others is, after all, not paper; it’s news reporting.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The principle product is news, not large rolls of paper. But the principle revenue is from ads. It would seem to me that the papers need to find a way to be more responsive to the readers and advertisers.

    If I remember correctly, part of the genius of the republican machine in 2004 was the ability to correlate likely sympathetic voters based on consumer preferences. The simple version is if you subscribe to Guns and Ammo magazine, you are likely to support the civil right to own a gun.

    Now if newspapers could track people in reverse, they should be able to place ads where they can be more relevant to the reader and thus more valuable to the advertiser. If you want the coupons/sales circular, then the paper can still make money acting as the central repository for those coupon and sales circulars, further allowing for you to click through to the advertisers web site and be able to track who looks at what.

    The local dry cleaner we prefer use to run a full page ad on the back of the weekly TV section. Prime real estate on a part of the paper that is likely to stay around for the whole week. Now they only run it once a month. They have the same ad available (with what is usually a 30 expiration date) on line at their site. They generate a number every time you print out an ad, which they can then use to track. X number of ads generated (by clicking on to their coupon web page), Y number of ads redeemed. Since they also have the customer information, they can even track who is influenced by coupons or specials and who is not (i.e. who would be a good target for a mailing and who would not). Other than word of mouth, they don’t advertise this capability.

    News papers aren’t dead, they just need to recognize that their value is in giving objective accounts of the news and there revenue can come from the availability of the eyes that come to read that news (either in print or pixels).

  2. Anderson says:

    Can someone explain this to me?

    But I think the Guardianâ??s move of releasing newspaper stories before they release the newspaper is a very big deal that it will end up transforming the business. A few reasons:

    First, this aggressively drives readers from print to online. It is one matter to put content online after it is in print, to allow people to find it there eventually, or to give them the bulletins everyone else has so you can remain competitive. It is quite another matter to give advantage to online, to let the public know that stories will appear there first.

    But this is old news, as Jarvis concedes; the NYT and WaPo have been doing it. Why the sudden excitement? Whatever changes he forecasts, if he’s spot-on, have already happened at the Times and Post.

  3. RA says:

    First, these papers are not “superb” papers. They are left-wing propaganda rags.

    Second, they have shown their true hands. They are willing to loose money to increase the number of people who read them. Their goal is not to make money by providing factual news but to change public opinion as their financial future dims.

    Propaganda at all cost! Its good we have talk radio, FOX and the blogs to refute their lies and half truths.

  4. Steve O says:

    In the future, the printed edition might just be a convenient way to access the news when you can’t be in front of your computer. Say you’re on the train, or eating breakfast…it’s much more convenient to turn pages — instant access. Zero download time.

    Like other areas of the economy, the online world will not replace the old-line world. But the two will work in tandem. You’ll read the story in the paper, and then go online to see more details for the stories which interest you.