Thursday, April 5, 2012

Media math: Online plus print equals really bad news

Over the last few years, traditional media has been dealt a tough hand because of the Internet and then because of the Great Recession.

Daily newspapers have suffered the most. Advertising is down – scary down – and if you really pay attention to what they’re doing, you can feel the terror in the corporate board room.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that the state of daily newspapers in 2012 is bleak. Well, we kind of knew that, but the numbers really underscore just how bad it is.

The current strategy is to move resources to the digital side of things, rather than continue to operate as if the print side will come back. You’ll see that strategy played out on corporate websites where the digital initiatives get all the ink and newspaper holdings get little or none.

“If this transformation (to digital) were going well, one would expect the new revenues to get closer each year to replacing ad revenues lost in print,” said Pew. “In 2011, according to Newspaper Association of America statistics, online advertising was up $207 million industry-wide compared to 2010. Print advertising, though, was down $2.1 billion. So the print losses were greater than the digital gains by 10 to 1.”

A couple of things struck me last weekend.

My daughter and her husband, both under age 40, are subscribers to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and during visits to their home I get a chance to wrap my hands around the paper I’ve been reading since I was a kid. In last Saturday’s PD, there seemed to be plenty of automobile dealer advertising, but little else in the form of true revenue streams.

The real estate tabloid inside it was a dozen or so pages. If it was your only source of real estate information, you couldn’t actually peruse the available properties in your community or look for new housing to buy or rent. It forces you to head to another source, which is more than likely to be Trulia, or, or Zillow on the Internet. Does anyone not go to the Internet to buy a home today?

So, what happens to the PD, I thought, when the loyal automobile dealers flee for the greener pastures of the Internet? I’ll answer that: Less revenue, more layoffs and tighter, smaller papers. Keep an eye on those dealers.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison explained to readers in his column that the size of the newspaper will be trimmed in the fall and that focus groups seemed to like the change.

“Each page is about a third shorter,” he said.

He explained in detail how the Dispatch would be better with its redesign.

“Those who loved the size mentioned how much easier it is to hold, how its pages won’t flop onto their breakfast partner’s cereal bowl and how their arms won’t get as tired holding up the paper,” Marrison wrote.
“Those who were concerned about finding less news and information inside quickly realized that it was all there, because we added pages and new sections to compensate for the smaller page size.”

Marrison neglected to mention that the overriding reason to trim length from newspaper pages is to save money because newsprint is a newspaper’s No. 1 expense after salaries and benefits.

But, no, the Dispatch is changing the size of the newspaper so readers’ arms won’t get tired holding it up. Remember that one the next time you hear someone in the daily newspaper business tell you everything is hunky-dory.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in my commentary that my favorite Cleveland Indians player has been and always will be Rocky Colavito. A few days later I received in the mail a baseball card from an anonymous source who is more than likely a Bargain Hunter reader.

The card features a photo of Colavito making a one-handed catch in front of an outfield wall. “Colavito’s Great Catch Saves Game,” says the headline on the card.

Research reveals the card was issued by Topps in 1959 (No. 462). Similar cards are going for about $10 on eBay, but it’s worth a million bucks to me. Thanks, dear reader, whoever you are.

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