Many Print Newspapers Will Go to 3 Days a Week

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I predict that in the months ahead, meaning the next 12 months, many print newspapers will drop daily publications to three days per week, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday (arguably the three best days of the week for print).  The massive fixed and variable costs of operating a print newspaper is just killing them off one by one.  Of course, this group of newspapers will only include the ones that don’t file bankruptcy and don’t close their doors.  There’s another category of print newspapers that will go online, either partially (while still printing a hard copy) or exclusively online.

Here is a summary I have collected of what has been happening just for the past three months, during the calender year 2009.  I think this summary says it all.

1/6/2009:  “Many Media experts predict that 2009 will be the year that newspapers of all sizes will falter and die, a threat long predicted but rarely taken seriously until the credit crunch blossomed into a full-fledged financial meltdown.  Some papers no longer print daily, and some not at all.”  And this, “How long can the smaller Sun-Times survive as its parent, Sun-Times Media Group Inc., loses money every quarter? And what of the dominant Tribune, whose parent Tribune Co. sought bankruptcy protection this month because of its crushing $13 billion debt?”  And this, “The Internet has surpassed newspapers as the main source for national and international news for Americans, according to a new survey.”

1/10/09:  “The Hearst Corp. is unlikely to find a buyer for its money-losing Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the venerable newspaper — at least in its printed form — almost certainly will fold, industry observers say.”  Seattle PI Going Out of Business

1/14/09:   “The Gannet Company, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, said on Wednesday that it would force thousands of its employees to take a week off without pay in an effort to avoid layoffs. Gannett, which owns 85 daily newspapers across the United States including its flagship USA Today, said it could not say exactly how many people would be required to take time off, or how much money the company would save. But it said it would require unpaid leave for most of its 31,000 employees in this country.” [Newspapers Going Down]

1/14/09:  “The Minneapolis Star Tribune, the 15th-largest daily U.S. paper based on circulation, filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, one of the biggest U.S. newspapers yet to financially flame out under a heavy debt load and a punishing decline in advertising revenue. . . The news came on the same day that The Boston Globe, owned by the New York Times (NYT.N: Quote, Profile, Research), said it would cut 12 percent of its newsroom staff, and a day after USA Today publisher Gannett Co Inc (GCI.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said it would force staff to take a 1-week furlough.”  Read Minneapolis Star Tribune Files for Bankruptcy.

1/20/2009:  “Google Inc will kill a program to sell newspaper advertising because it is not making enough money, a blow to its efforts to expand its ad expertise beyond the Internet.  Google will shut the Print Ads program on Feb. 28, the company said on its blog on Tuesday afternoon. The two-year-old service was designed to help newspapers make money by enticing Google advertisers to expand into print newspaper sales.”

1/31/2009:  “Not that it’s anything we think the New York Times Company should do, but we thought it was worth pointing out that it costs the Times about twice as much money to print and deliver the newspaper over a year as it would cost to send each of its subscribers a brand new Amazon Kindle instead. . . .  What we’re trying to say is that as a technology for delivering the news, newsprint isn’t just expensive and inefficient; it’s laughably so.”  Read Printing the New York Times.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnesses to the slow death of the American newspaper.

02/17/09:  “After 146 years in operation, an icon, the Seattle PI is going out of business.  The Seattle PI announced on January 9th that they would seek a buyer for the newspaper for a period of 60 days, and if no contract is inked with a buyer, the newspaper will have to take dramatic measures, which could include closing their doors permanently and/or going to a web version only.”  [Read The Seattle PI Closing:  Who Wins and Who Loses?]

02/23/09:  “The American newspaper industry has become the subject of more bad news, with the announcement that two local groups, including one that owns the country’s third-oldest daily newspaper, have filed for bankruptcy protection. The Philadelphia Inquirer has been placed into a Chapter 11 filing to allow its owners to restructure debts. The paper will be joined in bankruptcy protection by the Philadelphia Daily News and the website philly.com.  The strife faced by such a hallowed title – the paper was founded as the Pennsylvania Inquirer in 1829 and rose to prominence during the civil war -comes after the Journal Register company sought bankruptcy protection at the weekend. It owns 20 daily newspapers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut and New York.”  [Read US Papers File for Bankruptcy]

2/24/09:  “The Hearst Corp. said Tuesday that unless the San Francisco Chronicle can undertake “critical” cost-cutting measures including job cuts within weeks, the media giant will be forced to sell or close the 144-year-old newspaper.  The storied San Francisco publication is only the latest newspaper to see its already sagging fortunes tumble further amid the economic downturn. Over the weekend, Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as Journal Register Co. each filed for bankruptcy protection. See related story on the health of the newspaper industry.  Hearst said the Chronicle lost more than $50 million last year, and added that “this year’s losses to date are worse.” The Chronicle has had major losses each year since 2001, according to the company.”  [Read Hearst Says Cuts Needed.]

When a company talks about “weeks” and drastic measures, you know there is serious trouble ahead.

2/26/09:  “The Rocky Mountain News, a Denver institution for 150 years, will publish its last issue tomorrow.  A three-month long effort to sell the property yielded only one nibble, and the prospective buyer backed away quickly after learning that it would cost about $100 million “just to stay in the game,” said Rich Boehne, chief executive officer of E.W. Scripps Co. “The industry is in serious, serious trouble,” he told staffers assembled in the Rocky’s newsroom (above, Rocky Mountain News photo).”  Read Rocky Mountain News.

2/28/09:  “Why a once-profitable industry suddenly seems as outmoded as America’s automakers is a tale that involves arrogance, mistakes, eroding trust and the rise of a digital world in which newspapers feel compelled to give away their content.”  And “Years ago,” says Jeff Jarvis, a blogger who has worked for the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Daily News, “why didn’t we take more aggressive action and use the power of our megaphone to promote the product and change the organization?” The answer is that newspapers were “a cash cow,” he says. “We thought too much about trying to preserve what we had.”  And “With the old business model crumbling, some analysts say newspapers must find a way to charge for online content — perhaps through “micropayments” of the kind popularized by iTunes, which offers songs for downloading at 99 cents apiece. Others say papers must go the nonprofit route, relying on donors to raise endowments, much like universities.”  And “Newspapers are killing sections and closing bureaus, particularly in Washington. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press have cut back home delivery to three days a week. The Washington Times has dropped its Saturday print edition. The Christian Science Monitor is switching to Web-only publication in April. Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today, is forcing staffers to take a week-long furlough. Hearst plans to close the Seattle Post-Intelligencer unless it gets a buyer.”  [Read Under Weight of Its Mistakes, Newspaper Industry Staggers.]

3/9/09:  You’ve got to catch the irony of it, an online newspaper reporting the fall of print newspapers.  The Charlotte Business Journal online reported this:  “Struggling newspaper publisher McClatchy, parent company of Charlotte’s Observer, said Monday that it would cut 1,600 jobs and lower salaries across the company. . . But the steps announced Monday were even more severe than McClatchy was envisioning in February. The chain has been poisoned by a toxic mix of factors – immense debt from McClatchy’s purchase of Knight-Riddder a couple of years ago, the flight of readers and advertisers from daily newspapers to the Internet and a severe recession.”  Read full story at McClatchy to Cut 1,600 Jobs.

3/26/09:  Some have thought that the newspaper business was not entirely at risk, since some of the biggest industry players were still operating safely.  That’s no longer true.  “On Thursday, the New York Times announced it was cutting salaries for editors and managers by 5% through the end of the year and would be asking for the same concessions from unionized newsroom employees. The Washington Post, meanwhile, will extend buyouts mostly to newsroom, production and circulation staffs. Layoffs could come next.  Now that two of the nation’s best-regarded newspapers are taking dire actions, all bets are off. From now on, bad news across the newspaper spectrum will have to be accepted as more than simply a risk of doing business. It will be treated as routine”  Read Newspapers Need a New Business Model.

3/31/09:  “Sun-Times Media Group Inc. has become the second newspaper publisher in the Chicago area, and the latest among several around the U.S., to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at a time of unprecedented advertising revenue declines in the newspaper industry. Rival Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, filed for bankruptcy last December.’  Read Chicago’s Sun-Times Media Files For Chapter 11.

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