Every year this report comes out and every year it says the same thing. The circulation of newspapers is declining and there appears to be no bottom in site. Of the top 20 papers 18 of them saw decline in circulation and it’s funny to hear the excuses:
Increased use of “do not call” lists … sparked a slowdown in subscription solicitations by phone. “That is a major tool” that [has been] taken away.
I’m crying over that one. Especially since I just remembered to sign up my new number a couple of days ago. What about this one:
The circulation measurements are incomplete because they still do not take into account growing Web site activity.
What?! Did I read that right? Major papers are now trying to say that the web is a viable alternative? Papers may have been increasing their web presence over the past few years but this is a first time I’ve heard that web traffic should be included in circulation numbers. But wait, shouldn’t this also mean that there are other things on the web which should be given more credit?
This just begs the question of why has the web suddenly become the hero when it use to be the sidekick? I can remember back in the day when I was a little terror that I enjoyed reading the paper, not the funnies but the actual paper. Back then the paper was more lively and tried to engage you. What happened? Perhaps the best explanation can be gleamed from a little article from Cagle. As papers have aged over the past years they seem to be aging right along with us. The problem being they were always 20 years older then us to begin with. The material is drier, there’s more editing, and what happened to all the pretty pictures? Perhaps the two quotes Cagle mentions will explain everything:We would never hire an editorial cartoonist at the Times, because we would never give so much power to one man. We don’t like editorial cartoons at the Times because you can’t edit a cartoon like you can edit words.
Papers are so afraid of losing circulation they would sooner die a slow death then to have a handful of artists provoke a response. “Oh no we made 100 readers angry and they wrote to say they are no longer reading us!” “Um sir, those 100 people showed the cartoon to 1000 people and we now have 500 more readers then before.” You know that’s exactly what would happen. I’ll bet money that most of you have at one point opened up a newspaper because you remember a funny editorial. Does this mean that newspapers will eventually go away? Nah, there will always be some kind newspaper but the real question is when will the web overtake them in importance and when that happens will webcomics be there to trump syndicates?
Maybe it’s just me, but I have to say I’ve notice a more revolutionary bent in most of what you’ve been writing lately. I like it. I keep half expecting (like in the JibJab one) for you to end a post with “BURN IT DOWN.” I’m exagerating, but the inspirational/challenge undertone is there. Keep taking the new medication, whatever it is.
Now all we need are revolutionary T-shirts of newspapers/comic books in flames, pointing out how content on the net doesn’t burn. Or something like that. I don’t know.
I work for a hosting company and we host several regional newspapers. One of them sells online-only subscriptions (I don;t know how many they actually have, but they sell them). Then they upload PDFs of exact copies of their physical newspapers in addition to the standard html pager per story design. Even though no one reads the PDFs, they feel that by allowing the online subscribers access to an exact copy of the physical layout it allows the paper to count them as part of their circulation. Just an interesting example of what newspapers are trying to keep up their numbers.
As both a web cartoonist (Todd and Penguin & Taking Up Space) and editorial cartoonist/reporter for the local newspaper, I can say that newspapers are definitely looking to the web to stay competitive. I don’t think the paper will ever go away, there is something about holding the physical paper in hard form that really means a lot to readers. However, the way news is covered WILL change. Already you can see local papers putting local stories on the front page where many years ago, that space was reserved for national stories. Newspapers have to find their niche and take advantage of it.
They can’t do the news first so they have to work on doing it better than the TV and Web competition. Good point on the editorial comics. The ones that anger people are the ones that tend to bring in more readers and get more people talking. You just havwe to find the right balance.
Jared is right… and I think it’s so hot!