Tuesday, April 21, 2009

80 percent of newspapers gone in 18 months? Not likely.

wolff2The soundbite that will circulate in the journoblogosphere for the next 24 hours, from columnist and Newser founder Michael Wolff on a panel discussion with Craig Newmark and Bennett Zier:

About 18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. The Washington Post is supported by Kaplan’s testing business. The testing business will still be around in 18 months, and they will probably continue to support the newspaper. But that’ll be an exception.

Now, I have a bunch of predictions hanging out there myself — some have come true already, some have already turned out to be off the mark, the rest are wait-and-see — but this one is a real doozy. There are still about 1,430 daily papers in the U.S., so what Wolff’s prediction means that we can expect the extinction of 1,144 of them. Which works out to, let’s see, a little over two per day, every day, for 18 months. Sorry, that’s not happening.

To be sure, the industry is in deep, deep trouble. Most of the top 10 or 15 newspaper owners are bankrupt or close to it, and are in or near penny-stock territory. They don’t have two cents worth of credit left, and couldn’t raise the money for the most lucrative acquisition imaginable. Which (aside to Matt Ingram) is why there’s not much creativity coming from them. (Amazingly, most newspaper firms are slogging on under the leadership of the same CEOs, which is part of the problem.)

And, to be sure, ad revenue has been heading downward not just for a few years, but in truth, when measured in relation to all other media, for more than 60 years (that dark blue line):

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.

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