I’ve finally let my Seattle Times subscription lapse, after seven months with SeaTimes and 31 prior years with the now-discontinued print P-I. The only thing I’d still used the print paper for, that couldn’t be done online, was to methodically study how much smaller the SeaTimes was getting.
As a print subscriber, I was hardly supporting the newsroom. Subscription fees barely pay for the manufacture and delivery of the physical product. What I was doing was adding to the aggregate eyeballs the SeaTimes could sell to advertisers. That company’s done a lousy job at selling ads the past several years. Even before the Internet killed want ads and the Great Recession decimated home and car sales, they’d already been losing huge accounts to direct mail.
Supporting “newspaper style journalism,” and transitioning from it to something better, is a topic I’ve long written about.
Online ads earn far less income per reader than print ads. This is unlikely to change any time soon. SeattlePI.com has the potential to become profitable once the general economy improves, but won’t likely ever support anything near the news staff the print P-I had.
I currently see three potential scenarios:
1) Print papers continue to shrink, not to oblivion but to the point that they become vulnerable to startup competitors (who suddenly don’t have to pour in $30 million a year in costs and who can target niche audiences in a way old-line dailies can’t).
2) Print papers continue to shrink, to the point where they’re small enough to become subsidized by their big-business community friends (either through contributions or vanity ads).
3) New ebook-esque consumer devices (the long-rumored Apple tablet?) finally make true online publications with paid subscriptions not only feasible but popular.
Another viewpoint: Doug Morrison sees the Incredible Shrinking Newspaper as an issue affecting the exchange of ideas, the flow of facts, and even the future of democracy itself, and wonders if there could be a political solution.