The latest sales of The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon ignited another round of debate about the future of newspaper. The New York Times and others have debated over this inevitable reality. Many have concluded the demise of newspapers is eminent and their revenues seemed to follow this prediction. This debate has been going on for more than 10 years among editors, academics. and shareholders. So has this prediction become reality?
Many newspapers have gone through very rough time since the mass moved to the Internet along with the ad revenues. Many of them no longer exist or downsized to balance their budget. Some have tried desperately to adapt to the new reality of the Internet and mobile age. Yet, they have not been able to transform their business models to be as profitable as they used to once. Newspapers as we know it have been around for a few hundred years and were able to survive based on the more or less the same business model: You publish what is happening (mostly what happened yesterday) in the local community and have the local businesses to pay for the ads to promote their businesses. This simple business model worked until the Internet, a major disruptor that threatened publishing’s core business model. With today’s 24/7 news cycle, this notion of printing about yesterday’s events and affairs does not seem to satisfy the appetite of the “I want it right now generation.” Even in-depth analysis of issues does not seem to add more value as digital media giants like Huffington Post and many political blogs have that covered. If you look at the newspaper business model carefully, it seems hopeless. But, is it?
Not so fast. We have to remember that newspaper itself is only a medium. Without the content (especially relevant content), it is just useless like a million zombie websites on the Internet. What we need is more credible information that we can use. As we go through this adolescent phase of the “e-society,” we are learning many lessons like how the stock markets react to some joke made on Twitter, which has real impact on investments. This seems silly but that is the current state of things and we are trying to catch up to the rapid changes occurring due to disruptive technology. In order to create a stable future platform for the e-society, we need to have more content we can trust. Newspapers have served this role very well for many centuries and it can continue in this role, but will have to adapt to the new reality as quickly as possible. Yes, it is still possible to make money in journalism. Traditional media will have to come up with an e-business model that people are willing to pay for just like Apple did with its iTunes store. It is high time to innovate in printed media if they want to survive. The sale prices of The Washington Post and The Boston Globe are real bargain given their future potential.