Monday, January 5

Sign of the "Times"

Don't know if you caught this morning's New York Times. The paper, that is, not the web site. Probably not. There's a good chance you don't live in New York, and if you do live in The Big Apple, there's a good chance you didn't want to pay a buck-fifty at the news stand to pick up this morning's paper.

Here's what you missed: for the first time ever the "Old Gray Lady" had an ad
with pictureson its front page: across the bottom, a full-color ad (slugged, of all things, "Front Page News") plugging CBS as America's "most watched network."

Look, I'm no newspaperman (uh, -person). I have no firsthand knowledge of the tough times the newspaper business is facing. I know the Wall Street Journal has been accepting front page ads, and I know that the Times has been selling front page ads in its other sections for a couple of years. The paper has also had text-only display ads on the front page before. But this, what they call a "graphical ad" is a first, and a sign of the times at the Times.

Why now? Because most newspapers are struggling; and a fancy front page display ad can generate a lot of revenue.

Tradition is great
but tradition can't save newspaper jobs!

It's not just the recession. Newspapers started struggling long before the economy stalled and the administration started preaching bailouts. It's the damned Internet, dammit! Or is it?

There was a great article in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, "News You Can Lose" by business writer James Surowiecki.

He made the point that industries go south when people abandon their products. BUT, HE SAID, PEOPLE AREN'T ABANDONING NEWSPAPERS, JUST THE DELIVERY SYSTEM.

Let me lift a couple of quotes from his excellent article:

But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.

His final thought:

For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.

His worrymy worryabout newspapers and about TVis that we're not going to be able to generate the cash to guarantee quality. Quality, as we know, has been in short supply in "the meed-ya" in recent years. What will we be if we get worse? And do Joe and Mary at home care?

"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves." Cassius said that in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." So did Edward R. Murrow in another context. It applies here.

A brief "folo:" Reuters reports that the going rate for the new front page "graphical" ads is $75,000 for the daily, $100k for Sunday. If they get what they're asking, that's $28.6 million a year!