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Prediction: Newspapers will be gone in 5 years
The Center for the Digital Future (part of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism) has released a study about the impact of the internet on Americans. They study touches on issues of privacy, social media, PC vs tablet computing among other issues. One prediction made is that most US newspapers will be gone in five years.
“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest,” said Cole. It’s likely that only four major daily newspapers will continue in print form: The New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.”The impending death of the American print newspaper continues to raise many questions,” Cole said. “Will media organizations survive and thrive when they move exclusively to online availability? How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?
With that prediction on the record, lets look at other predictions that have been made in the past and see how accurate they’ve been.Dilbert creator Scott Adams, back in 2007 predicted the end in two mobile phone upgrades (about four years).
I predict that the end of printed newspapers will happen in the time it takes for most people to upgrade their cell phones two more times. The iPhone, and its inevitable copycats, (let’s call them iClones) are newspaper killers. When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant. Eventually, all cell phones will have Internet browsing built in. You might not have a web browser on your next cell phone, but the one after that will have it as a standard feature.Most people prefer to read a printed page versus a computer screen. A cell phone screen is the worst of all. But newspapers will collapse as a business long before 100% of iPhone and iClone owners give up their printed newspaper subscriptions. I don’t know if it will take 20% of iPhone/iClone owners to cancel their subscriptions, or if it will take 60%, but whatever the number, it seems likely we will reach it. Then the printed newspaper will disappear.
Safe to say, we can put that one in the fail column, but note the “why.” It becomes a trend in a lot of these predictions.
So here’s where the spiral begins. Newspapers’ profitable classified advertising business will be all but gone in 10 years, a victim of the vastly superior results and economics of search-driven online advertising. Display advertising will be under intense pressure from alternative media, including not just Web sites but an emerging class of small print publications and supermarket advertisers that serve local audiences (print publishing is getting cheaper, too). The department stores and cell phone companies that sustain newspapers’ display advertising business will apply intense pressure on papers to bring down their prices. Newspapers will be forced to lay off staff in order to maintain margins. Cuts in services will lead to cuts in editorial coverage, making papers less relevant to subscribers. As circulation declines, advertising rates will have to come down to remain competitive. This will put more pressure on margins, leading to more layoffs, more cost cuts, more circulation declines and more pressure on margins. Once this spiral begins, it will accelerate with breathtaking speed. And it has already begun.
So far he’s been pretty accurate. We saw the mass layoff stage during 2008-2009. He’s got another 4 years before we can put this down in the true or false column.
Here’s another interesting prediction by the Future Exploration Network that also puts the end within a 5 year time frame.
“In the developed world newspapers are in the process of becoming extinct, driven by rapidly changing use of media and revenues out of line with cost structures,” said Dawson in the news release. “These pressures will be compounded by the rise of tablet devices and the coming availability of low-cost digital paper with exceptional qualities.”
According to the study, the US newspaper is out of business by 2017 and pretty much in most nations by 2040. Here’s their timeline graphic.
As I read these predictions, I don’t think anyone is suggesting a wholesale end of the newspaper business. Small papers or specialized papers will probably survive, but most city papers will be replaced by digital versions.