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Just another ICM blog

Face it: News on print is doomed

We’re witnessing the end of days for newspapers.

Most of us don’t want to admit it, but the day when printed newspapers will cease to exist is approaching. It’s not a rumble in the distance anymore, either. It’s bearing down on us like a summer storm.

There will be a tipping point where it no longer makes economic sense to produce printed papers. Newspaper owners eventually will turn to digital delivery models, even if they don’t wan to. This will be the only alternative for most of them.

In the early days of publishing, it only took a few people to write and produce a newspaper. In time, technological advances made it possible for publications to be produced more quickly and in greater numbers. But instead of a few people cranking out dozens of pages by hand, it took a small army to produce and distribute the product.

When computers began to make operations more efficient, newspapers didn’t need as many people anymore. More tasks began to return to the newsroom, which meant fewer and fewer production positions.

Those job reductions aren’t over.

Circumstances eventually will force publications to take the next step. It may be as simple as higher printing costs,  continued declines in circulation or the defections of the last advertisers. Or it could be the rise of a dominant device, like a tablet or e-reader, that sparks a shift in reader habits.

Taking that step will allow newspapers to eliminate printing and distribution of the product, as well as the cost of newsprint, ink and fuel for delivery vehicles. Think of the savings if all those expenses were wiped off the books.

All that would be needed to maintain operations are the people who collect and edit the news and a small technical support staff.

No one is pulling for people to lose their jobs, but the economic facts are tough to deny and this kind of change has been anticipated for a long time.

When the economy tanked over the last two years, lots of publications scrambled to find ways to stay in business. Many were already in trouble after years of declining circulation and lost advertising revenue.

Some papers didn’t make it. Some managed to hang on by cutting budgets and staff. Most were forced to start looking at online options and alternative methods of delivery, like the Kindle or another mobile device. They all hoped the economy would rebound and bring back the good old days.

If they’re honest, most newspaper executives already know that’s not going to happen. The golden age of newspapers is over. People’s tastes and habits are changing. The last generations to really embrace newspapers are fading away and younger readers are attracted to other options, if they’re interested at all.

Newspapers have to realize that their real product is the collection of news; the method of distribution isn’t important anymore. Clinging to the printed page spells doom for the industry; making the jump to digital offers a chance at renewal.

It’s not a question of “if” anymore, it’s a question of “when.”

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