Clock ticks on printed newspapers

|| March 29, 2016

For how long will you be thumbing through a printed newspaper in Australia?

If you read The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, your printed newspaper is in palliative care. Without pain relief. Saturday papers may last longer but the loss-making weekday versions are in serious trouble.

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood has not committed to printing the SMH and The Age beyond this year, explaining: "I can't say that newspapers are forever".

Fairfax isn't isolated. Australia's other major newspapers must also confront the loss of daily editions albeit not in the same rush as Fairfax.

In recent weeks, UK newspaper The Independent printed for the last time

The economics of newspapers are relatively simple. Newspapers are:

  • Expensive to produce - paper isn't cheap, the presses need maintenance
  • Expensive to distribute - almost all distribution is done by road because air freight is even more costly. That means at least one truck and one person for each route
  • Getting smaller and smaller - fewer ads means smaller papers
  • Expensive to buy - fewer ads means falling ad revenue and a need to increase the cover price
  • Selling fewer copies - this one is simple

Newspapers have also been the most profitable platform for publishers, raking in far more revenue than digital products.

But many are hitting a tipping point - when the cost of production of the papers is not covered by the revenues. Especially for weekday issues. 

This isn't new. New Orleans' Times-Picayune, a giant in its community during Hurricane Katrina, announced four years ago that it was dumping daily issues

The end of daily newspapers should not be doom-and-gloom for journalism. The mastheads will continue in digital form at a time when audiences are consuming more news and information than ever.

And that's where the challenge really begins for these publishers - how will they generate the revenue to sustain their newsrooms?

That question has stumped publishers across the world. Many have delayed a solution while wringing every possible dollar from their print versions.

But those days are almost done. And that's when the hard work begins. 

- Michael Crutcher