If there’s one thing the crazy summer of 2017 has made abundantly clear, it’s that print journalism remains enormously important, both for its vital role in informing the citizenry, and for its continuing strength as a business model.
The last clause of that lede may be shocking. More about that later.
First, the part about informing the citizenry. Ever since President Trump took office, the news media in general, and newspapers in particular, have been tasked with correcting the record any time what some have called our “liar in chief” lets loose with another whopper.
More specifically, it’s clear to anyone who has been following the news that The New York Times and the Washington Post are engaged in a great newspaper war as they try to outdo one another in digging up dirt on the White House. As I wrote earlier this summer, the two papers have been serving up a near-constant stream of scoops about Trump’s lies, blunders and misdeeds. And as I write this in early August, the Post has just published another bombshell: transcripts of Trump’s embarrassing conversations with the president of Mexico and prime minister of Australia.
If you don’t believe that this demonstrates how important newspapers still are, even in comparison to television news, see how long you can watch one of the cable news networks without hearing them refer to the latest revelation from the Times or the Post. Indeed, see how long it is before the reporters who dug up these scoops are being interviewed on various cable news shows. Chances are, it won’t be very long.
(Newspapers are still the primary movers and shakers of investigative journalism for the simple reason that they have more reporters, and specifically more beat reporters, than their broadcast brethren. Network news operations employ lots of anchor people and camera operators and technicians of various sorts, but typically have far fewer reporters than large papers like The Times, the Post or the Wall Street Journal.)
So watch the political shoutfests all you want on CNN, MSNBC or Fox, but remember that the real news about the Trump administration still comes largely from print journalists. Given the mendaciousness of the current administration, what these newspapers are providing is nothing less than a vital service to our country.
Now about that business model. It’s common knowledge that publishing newspapers is a sorry business indeed, and that the future of news is digital and online.
That’s true in a general sense. Newspapers have been hit with drops in both circulation and advertising revenue for years, a trend that has only accelerated in the digital age.
But that’s really only half the story because even now, at most newspapers the revenue that comes from print (ad revenue and sales of the papers themselves) still amounts to far more than what comes from digital (online advertising and revenue from website paywalls).
Take The New York Times. As Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute reported in July, at The Times, “digital-only subscriptions now outnumber print by more than two to one, and net additions per quarter, thanks in part to the Trump bump, have been growing by six-figure increments in recent quarters.”
The problem is, digital subscriptions still only account for 31 percent of the Times’ circulation revenue, while nearly 70 percent still comes from, you guessed it, print.
That’s significant, because probably no other U.S. newspaper has done a better job of monetizing digital revenue than the Times. Yet even there, they still struggle to reap significant digital earnings.
As Edmonds writes:
“A full-rate digital-only subscription is $195 a year. Print subs range in price but go as high as more than $1,000 annually… Even after also factoring for less expensive Sunday-only subscriptions, it clearly takes multiple New York Times digital subs – maybe three or more – to generate the same revenue as one print/all access.”
Print also remains stubbornly appealing to many readers (yes, probably the older ones). Edmonds cites a study that revealed this interesting fact: 44 percent of print readers still don’t even look at the digital version of their paper.
What does this all mean? That newspapers are going to be around for some time to come. And we should all be thankful for that.