Zeitungen und Internet: Wie lässt sich die Krise überwinden?

23. Mai 2009 • Digitales • von

Europäisches Journalismus Observatorium

New EJO research explores challenges facing newspapers.Noch nie wurden Zeitungen so regelmässig gelesen wie heutzutage. Dennoch befindet sich die Zeitungsindustrie in einer strukturellen Krise. Um zu verstehen, wie man aus diesem Dilemma herausfinden könnte, muss man eine Reihe von Aspekten betrachten, erläutert der Kommunikationsforscher Piero Macri.

Abstract auf Englisch:

Despite the notable increase in online readership, advertising has not kept pace. Indeed its growth has been insignificant, and the shift from paper to online advertising has been greatly limited.  On average, the investment value of Web advertising does not exceed 10 percent of a newspaper’s total revenue.

Any attempt to impose access fees for news content appears to have little potential for success. Readers are accustomed to obtaining information for free, and thus are inclined to reject any type of subscription or micropayment.  A shift in this tendency is possible only if leading publishing companies assume a joint strategy.  In this respect, one must consider the steps taken by Rupert Murdoch, who claimed he was determined to charge fees, as is now the case for the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers owned by the News Corporation.  Will Murdoch’s initiative be enough to change the dynamic?

The business model of online journalism suffers from competition with Google.  Should newspapers rid themselves of traffic generated by search engines, they would immediately see audiences decrease by more than 50 percent.   A re-evaluation of this relationship to Google seems crucial and should encourage a search for compromise economically advantageous to both parties.

Expenses of a traditional publishing firm can be estimated with 25 to 35 percent devoted to paper and printing, 30 to 40 percent toward distribution and 15 to 25 percent toward  publishing personnel.  Around 60 percent will be consumed by production costs, which drop significantly the moment a company decides to go online.   Costs of a technological infrastructure needed for exclusive use on the Web correspond to about 10 percent of the total costs, or six times lower than those of traditional print publishing.  However the online model is not economically sustainable.  According to an optimistic view, in exceptional circumstances between five and eight years will be needed  for the online model to become sustainable – a range of time during which many newspapers will be forced to close or reduce drastically.

State interventions for subsidizing the publishing industry serve to alleviate the sector’s difficulties, but are unsustainable in the long run precisely because of the ways in which the public obtains information are changing.

What should be done?

A publishing firm’s survival depends on the pace of reader migration from printed material to the Web.  The slower the pace, the more time newspapers have to adjust.  Obituaries for traditional papers are therefore premature.  The hybrid system of online/offline use will become the most valid economic model for a brief period.  Nonetheless, the volume of print advertising seems to be decreasing.  From this arises the need to adopt a new approach to publishing.  Consider the following:

The print industry clings to the belief that its old form of organization can be preserved, that the logic of generalized content is fundamentally sound and requires a simple digital facelift.  Nothing is more erroneous.  Only a few large firms can afford to offer general information of quality – the vast majority ought to limit themselves to the focus or types of information that represent their strengths.

Over the course of time the term “print” has become synonymous with “journalism” –  a word, in fact, that is derived from “journal.”  There is no greater anachronism.  The journalism of the future will be multi-medial and highly interactive, but this requires a change in mentality that journalists tend to resist, placing themselves at great risk of self-destruction.

The Web favors the proliferation of news, combined, however, with swifter and more flexible editing.  Only in this way will online information become economically sustainable.  This offers an opportunity for the rise of nascent news sites, and a challenge for traditional sites to resolve or alleviate debt inherited from past investments, such as full color rotary presses.  Previous assets are quickly transformed into liabilities, and the ability to deal with the latter will be very important in determining the possibility for adjustment in the present world of publishing.

The logic of adaptation also concerns advertising.  On one hand, serious doubts arise regarding the reliability of a method based on the mode of access that prevails today.  Yet on the other hand, publishers have not yet grasped the Internet’s full potential.  If it is undeniable that a business model has not yet been found, it is equally true that attempts to find new sources of revenue have been scarce, and even when they’ve been made, they once again adhered to old logic.  For example, why not respond to Google’s competition by adopting their logic, aiming for open-minded forms of aggregation among the newspapers?

The old world of publishing was based around the newspaper’s exclusivity.  The new one, due to the role of search engines and the brief period of time spent on site visits (three minutes, on avergae),  promotes an entirely different focus. That is, a focus on content-sharing and collaboration among newspapers.  In order to embrace these developments, however, all must change their approach – journalists, editors and advertisers included.

To download the complete report in Italian, click here.

Translated by Irina Oryshkevich

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com – alex barth

Tags:  Marcello Foa Piero Macrì EJO research Newspaper industry crisis Business model

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