Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Stick Your Head In The Sand Approach To Saving The Newspaper Business

Over the past few years, as the newspaper business got in deeper and deeper trouble, we seemed to increasingly hear some particularly clueless suggestions on how newspapers should save themselves -- almost always revolving around some sort of backwards effort to put the genie back in the bottle, such as by all banding together, violating all sorts of anti-trust rules and colluding to charge for content. Of course, this also ignores basic economic reality on how people view information and news. It also, falsely, assumes that newspapers are the only source for news, and that in stupidly taking themselves out of the market, upstart competitors won't fill the void.
Yet, it seems there's no shortage of silly suggestions along those lines. Mathew Ingram recently pointed to two such examples, with the San Francisco Chronicle publishing journalism professor Joel Brinkley's unoriginal suggestion that newspapers openly collude to start charging and the NY Times' David Carr's misleading profile of a tiny newspaper that has "thrived" by "ignoring the web."
Along those lines, a few people have submitted a rant by another old school newspaper guy, saying that the internet is the "cause" of all of the newspaper industry's woes, and that things would have been fine if all newspapers had simply stayed off the internet entirely. Now, obviously, these are journalists, rather than economists, but anyone with even the most basic understanding of economic principles or just the basic history of markets and innovation would know what happens to companies that ignore how a market is changing. The buggy whip makers didn't thrive by ignoring the automobile industry. They went out of business.
The newspaper industry won't be saved by putting its collective head in the sand (or by agreeing to some anti-competitive price fixing.) The newspaper industry will be saved by finally realizing that their "product" is their community of readers, and that anything they do to serve that community better is the future, not by clinging to a past when there was no real competition.


No comments: