Wpost print loses readers to site
Tuesday, May 4th, 2004
Newspaper circulation declined nationally in the first quarter. The fundamental problem — there are lots of other places to get the same information.
Some of the steepest declines among big papers were registered by The Washington Post, which lost an average of about 24,000 readers on weekdays (a drop of about 3 percent, to 772,553) and a similar number on Sundays (representing a drop of 2 percent, to 1,025,579.)
Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, said in a telephone interview that several factors appeared to have contributed to the declines, including a spike in readership during the early months of 2003, which he attributed to interest in the buildup to the war in Iraq.
But citing something of a mixed blessing that will be watched closely by other newspapers, Mr. Jones said that the newspaper’s Web site – as well as a free tabloid-size affiliate of the paper, called Express, which was introduced last summer -appeared to be siphoning some readers from the main paper.
Of course, this could just be rationalization. Most publishers see that for every two subscriber’s lost to the web, two or three new ones are attracted. But maybe that game is coming to an end, as the marketing effect of having a web site is wearing off.
In any case, if the web is going to be the scapegoat for circulation losses, the Post steps into a difficult paradox: try to make online readers pay, and you’ll lose out to the free competition, whether that is NYT or bloggers making fair use of excerpts of online material.
Hey, I love newspapers too. Great editors make a great difference. And newspapers fund lots of investigative stuff that freelancers can’t shoulder themselves. I ain’t sayin its right, I’m just sayin.
But things ARE changing, even as the industry has been lulled into thinking, “gee, we thought the web was going to kill us all in 1999, I guess we were wrong.”
Read Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma and/or Solution for an excellent framework for understanding the challenge the web poses for traditional publishers. Every now and then an industry is transformed when a cheap, lowpower solution comes along with a lower cost structure, different marketing channels and (intially) different customers who are ignored by the current marketplace… then the “disruptive” solution slowly improves and knaws into the muscle of the existing market.