If the Internet isn’t responsible for the decline in newspapers…what is?

Here’s an article from Science Daily that posits that all the claims that the Internet (or, more specifically, Internet advertising) is responsible for newspapers’ downfall are false…but then it doesn’t propose any alternative reasons to replace it.

The article cites a research paper by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Matthew Gentzkow, published in the American Economic Review. Gentzkow looks at the differences in rates and views between on-line and newspaper ads. The perception that the Internet is responsible for newspapers’ downfall, Gentzkow posits, is based on the idea that on-line ad revenues are lower than print revenues, because Internet ads are much cheaper than print.

However, Gentzkow says, this is because people are comparing apples and oranges. Online ads are measured in “number of unique monthly visitors” while newspaper ads are measured in circulation numbers. And people actually spend more time reading than looking at ads.

By comparing the amount of time people actually see an ad, Gentzkow finds that the price of attention for similar consumers is actually higher online. In 2008, he calculates, newspapers earned $2.78 per hour of attention in print, and $3.79 per hour of attention online. By 2012, the price of attention in print had fallen to $1.57, while the price for attention online had increased to $4.24.

He also notes that newspapers had actually fallen off in popularity significantly between 1980 and 1995, before the Internet became popular, and have been declining at the same rate ever since. But he (or at least, the piece in Science Daily) doesn’t offer any suggestions why that might be. More people turning to getting their news from television, perhaps? I know my parents never subscribed to a paper when they could get their news over the air for free.

It might also be that there are more factors involved than just the price of advertising, such as the growth of services like Craigslist that stole classified ad revenue away from newspapers…but that wouldn’t account for their pre-Internet-era decline. That’s a puzzler all right.

5 Comments on If the Internet isn’t responsible for the decline in newspapers…what is?

  1. Cancelled physical delivery of local paper because it was always late, wet, torn, etc, and it wasn’t worth the hassle to get a replacement. Tried their online version and liked it, but the cost is *horrible* ($86.50 per yr and comes out twice weekly). Quite often I found they reported on everything after the fact, so I missed loads of events and such. My feeling was that they figured everyone was part of the “good ol’ boy network” and knew what was going on, so why report it. Plus, no comics. 😉

    Now I read two online epapers that cover this area. Both are free, and I click and read the ads to help subsidize them. Works for me.

  2. Mrs. Robinson // June 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm //

    My father always got the paper. He still does. But I’ve only gotten a paper on the weekend, and even then canceled after a year, and I’m in my 50’s.

    They’ve always seemed like such a waste of paper. With tv and radio, the news in the paper was old, the ads took up most of the space, and the only thing useful about it was the jobs/wanted/pet/sales sections in the back. Even those I’ve only found useful a few times.

    Neither of my sisters take papers either. They’ve just never been very handy when other sources are out there, so I’ve never had much interest even well before the internet.

  3. Dana Hartsock // June 12, 2014 at 5:23 pm //

    I have been reading the newspaper for nearly as long as have been able to read. Today I find my newspaper to be a pale imitation of what it once was.

    Certainly the internet has stolen a great deal of ad revenue. But that is not what I see as a bigger problem. Quality has declined. The demise of the locally owned paper has something to do with it in my opinion. My paper was locally owned until Gannett bought it. The local owners were already seeing a decline in circulation and revenues when they sold the paper in 1985. This is a proud paper that won more Pulitzers for national reporting than any paper not named the New York Times. The initial decline is more difficult to analyze. My gut feeling is advertising was moving to television and more people were content to get their news from television. Watching tv news does not take the time and commitment reading a paper does.

    Under corporate ownership the focus on costs became much stronger. Cut editors, cut reporters, cut the washington bureau. Cut the content. There is less to read and the content is of generally lower quality. I continue to read the resulting product largely because of inertia. That and I don’t see an adequate replacement. For example, the Sunday edition of the paper at one time would take me 1 1/2 – 2 hours to read. Today, 30 minutes. My father who has read the paper for more than 70 years cancelled his subscription.

    Personally not happy with the decline of newpapers and not happy to be lacking and adequate replacement. Very hard to see the situation ever improving.

  4. As papers merged and got bought out the stories got less and less local. Then the big conglomerates got more and more liberal and since they own it all they report the news they want the way they want it reported.

  5. I am sure I am the minority here, but I have been reading print newspapers since I was ten years old or so reading the Springfield Union in the morning, dropped on our doorstep, and at night the Springfield Republican, and then on Sunday the Sunday New York Times which my Brooklyn-born dad ordered for us 5 kids to read and get to the know the wider world outside Springfield, Massachusetts. And since then where ever i lived, i read the Boston Globe for 4 years at college, and then the Washington Star and the Washington Post during 5 years in DC and then the Juneau Empire in Alaska for 12 years and then the Daily Yomiuri in Japan for 5 years, and then the Taipei Times in Taiwan for many years now. I read 4 print newspapers a day here in Taiwan in English, part of my routine, back up by deep internet surfing and googling too, and I love the combo, but I depend on print newspapers for my daily nourishment. At a local hotel near my home, the lobby, it’s a tourist hotel, has daily copies of USA TODAY and the International New York Times and I go into the airconditioned lobby 3 times a week to read those papers too. I just love print and I love paper paper newspapers. For me it’s a reading thing. I read slowly on paper, I can underline and circle words and REFLECT on what I am reading, rather than skimming and scanning and speed reading as i often do when I am SCREENING. So even though I am a minority here, just wanted to put my two cents in the chat too: print newspapers matter also. But each to his own, and maybe one major reason i love newspapers so much is I have worked in the print newspaper industry all my life, starting at age 18 at college. So paper is my blood now. Most people who are not reporters or editors, I can understand why they shun print newspapers. But to me: like the old saying give me liberty or give me death, i say, “Give me print newspapers or give me death!” With humor, of course. I know my time here on Earth is limited, and I will be dead soon enough. Still, I hope they bury with me old newspapers stuffed in the coffin. That’s what i put in my will.

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