For the first time in their careers, journalists are faced with the unenviable task of writing about the demise of their profession. Sure, it's a bit pre-emptive, but print journalists have reasons to be worried.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations reports that the average weekday circulation of nearly 400 daily papers slid 10.6 per cent between April and September 2009 compared with the same six-month period last year. That was bigger than the 7.1 per cent decline recorded during the previous six months.
It's clearly a worldwide trend. The two major Japanese Shimbuns are down at least two million each from their peak 1980's circulation. In India, one of the last major markets where circulation is actually rising, newspapers are battling TV, which is grabbing an ever larger share of the advertising cake.
So why is print journalism staring into an abyss?
One, younger readers are NOT reading newspapers. The Neiman Journalism Labs, a Harvard University project, says teenagers now spend on an average three minutes a day reading news and that too on their handhelds. Youngsters who don't read newspapers like to say, "I'll buy the paper if you can show me one news item that happened today." This generation is not going to graduate to newspapers like an earlier one did from Superman comics.
Two, classifieds are moving online. Cars, for instance, are more convenient to check out online - there's no pressure from a pushy salesman. On classified sites like Craiglist, you can save searches and come back at leisure. Newspapers face one major disadvantage in that they can't allow advertisers to talk directly to individual readers. Newspaper advertising is like spraying Agent Orange and hoping it does the job, but never being able to verify how effective it was.
In recent times, the iconic Boston Globe has threatened to shut down its print edition. The New York Times Co, which owns the Globe, offered a million dollars to anyone who would take the publication off its hands. Business Week, which used to sell 6000 ad pages in its heyday, was once valued at $1 by its banker.
According to the Neiman Journalism Labs, a market as huge as the United States (GNP $14,000 billion) is able to support only one main daily newspaper per city.