Let me first provide a personal disclaimer.  I grew up in the Newspaper business.  My family owned several newspapers and my uncles ran newspapers chains.  I love the daily newspaper and still read three at least on a weekly basis.  However, that does not change the reality of what is going on today.

There is nothing old-fashioned or “wrong” with newspapers, in fact, quite the contrary, there content from writers to stories to layout to graphics to features are as relevant as ever.  I was just on a Live Blog last night during the MLB Playoff Game between Detroit and Oakland [ ] and it was lively, well-attended, quick-paced and lots of fun.  It was hosted and moderated by the Detroit Free Press.

What has changed primarily are two things:  the work life of the family and the means of distribution.  To expound on what I mean:

The “work life of the family”:  As social change has occurred and women have entered the work force in a major way beginning in the 1960s, the United States family has gone from being headed by one wage-earner to two.  This was the first significant shock to the Newspaper industry.  For example, until then the daily newspaper was delivered at 5PM…not AM…so the “man of the family” could read it when he got home from work.  In most metropolitan areas the evening newspaper had the biggest circulation.  For example until the early 1960s Detroit had TWO evening newspapers, the still publishing Detroit News, and the Detroit Times.  The Times ceased publication and was bought by the News [ ].  Today the News is published in the morning, along with the Detroit Free Press [] that has always been a morning newspaper.

So, having the available time to read the newspaper has diminished, and thus so has readership.  As further proof of this are the circulation statistics of the various newspapers with Sunday always being the day of biggest readership save a specialized newspaper like the Wall Street Journal which serves the business community that is not open on Sunday [ ].

The second change is “means of distribution”.  The physical means of distributing a newspaper has always been expensive.  The need for a plant, the typesetting, the printing presses, the newsprint, the trucks to deliver the printed paper, the newsboxes.  You get the picture.  So, this meant that the barrier to entry in this business was high.  You just didn’t open up a daily newspaper without a well-constructed business plan and a lot of money.  This resulted in generally only one newspaper in a market and that resulted in a “monopoly”.  So, the “means of distribution” prevented competition which resulted in only one newspaper per market and before the creation of the Six 0’Clock News on TV, and with the one wage-earner family, the daily newspaper had a lock on the market.  Hence the huge popularity of the newspaper as an advertising medium since “everybody read the newspaper” and that was really pretty much true.

If the Internet has had a profound effect on anything, “means of distribution” might just be at the top of the list.  Remember:  stock brokers, travel agents, big-time morning radio shows, disc jockeys, record labels, major movie studios…the list goes on?  Now you might argue all of those trades and companies still exist…and that’s true…but they don’t have a “lock” on the market.  In fact, in most cases, they are a shadow of what they were.  When Paul McCartney debuts his latest album at Starbucks that tells you that there is no need for a major record label…and until recently, if you weren’t signed by a label, you could never become a commercial success [ ].

So, like hundreds of other landmark businesses the Daily Newspaper has lost its readers due to lack of time to read it, and lost its monopoly advertising power due to the barrier to entry being destroyed by the Internet.  Many people still do read their favorite newspaper online but they read what they want, when they have time, and in most cases, don’t even pay for it.  And now, there are so many online newspapers that fragmentation has made using them for typical display advertising prohibitive.  Talk about a total change of an industry.

What is an advertiser to do when faced with whether to advertise in the newspaper today in 2012?  We would suggest several deciding factors:  compute the CPM and compare it with your other media choices, look at local weekly newspapers that serve a community or business sector that is not available online, test your advertising with a unique offer or a coupon, and check you demos against the newspaper readership.  If your target is over 60 years old, you are probably on target, if not, continue to test and see if you get results.

Long live the Daily Newspaper!


The author, Bob Ottaway, is President and Founder of Ottaway Digital.  Established in 1999, it has been a pioneer in SEO, digital advertising & social media since 2006.  

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