The End of Print Media?
This post is inspired by a blog in Spanish titled Los días contados de los diarios impresos en Nicaragua. It was written by Emila Persola, apparently to help promote Festival de Blogs Nicaragua which takes place in the beginning of September. I say inspired by but what I have to say is more generic.
The article suggests that print newspapers will be a thing of the past in Nicaragua by 2016 or 2018 at the latest. It seems likely but it also seems likely in much of the world, not just Nicaragua. The question is whether it is a bad thing or not. The two big issues to look at are:
- Will the flow of news and other information continue?
- Will resources be saved?
Having been in the publishing business for much of the last 30 years, I would like to weigh in on this.
While a post-newspaper Nicaragua maintain the information flow? The answer here is clearly yes but with significant changes. The changes will not be the same in Nicaragua as in the First World but my feeling is that the information flow will continue but with less central control. Some of that central control comes from governments, other parts from what we commonly call media giants. While in the First World, a few media giants have managed to buy up most news sources, that has never been the case in Nicaragua.
Here there are two daily newspapers. Both are struggling which is no surprise as daily newspapers serving a much larger and more affluent market are struggling as well. The New York Times is but one such example. The question is simply whether there are more cost-effective alternatives and, if so, what pays for them.
The blogger suggests that news delivered to cellular phones is a big contributor. It may well be as is radio and television news. The long-term difference between print media and broadcast media has been the way the user can choose what they want to see. If you listen to news on the radio or on television, you are fed the news. In the Internet age, this is called push media. That is, information from a central source is pushed to the consumer. Thus, you have no choice (short of changing the station) as to what is supposed to be important.
Newspapers have always come closer to what today is called pull media. That is, the consumer gets to pick what they want. While the total of what is reported may be limited, you can, for example, turn directly to the sports page or the classifieds rather than having to wade through what we call the front page news. An even better example is how a newspaper can be shared—I remember as a kid how we as a family would divide up the Sunday paper so each of us had the section we were most interested in.
To be effective, a newspaper replacement needs to offer pull rather than push media. The good news is that can be done and is happening. One of the ways that happens is with what are called RSS feeds. We even have one here. The funny looking orange icon near the bottom of the page is NicaLiving's RSS feed. While it will look pretty ugly if you click on it, you can point a feed reader at it and you will get a list of what you can call headlines in a format where you can pick and choose what you want to read.
Another way we can pick is that many web sites have newsletters (as we do). Other sites may be carefully targeted. For example, the site for a musical group or sports team may have announcement lists. This is nothing new but getting the information electronically rather than in the mail is the difference.
For someone with a computer and an Internet connection or for someone with a high-end cellular phone, the print newspaper is all but obsolete. Even if you are going to be away from an Internet or cellular network connection, setting up your computer or phone to download what you want to read (say, in the early morning) so you can read it off-line while you travel to work is easy.
But, what about the people in the campo? That is, people that don't have an Internet connection, high-end cellular phone or, well, electricity? In general, these people did not have access to a newspaper anyway. For example, if I wanted a print copy of La Prensa or El Nuevo Diario, I would have to get it from Estelí. But, if I was in Estelí, I would have access to the Internet and cellular networks.
This means that beyond the push media of radio, the alternative news source in the campo has been word of mouth. For example, you might be talking to neighbors and ask about the price of cooking oil. Someone who had been in the city where you could buy it would answer your question.
To deliver news you need to expend resources. The question becomes one of efficiency. Or within today's economic system, cost. For the moment, let's assume no change in the news gathering end of things. That is, some company/set of companies will gather the news that is to be distributed. The issue is then delivery cost.
Delivery via radio is one of the lest expensive methods but it is push media. As I explored above, we now have the technology to turn Internet/cellular network access into pull media. While the tools to make this easy for consumers are still evolving, the technology is there. As the infrastructure is used for other things, there is little incremental cost to add news to these delivery channels.
If we compare this to print media, we see amazing savings. While the first thing we think of with newspapers is the cost in terms of natural resources to produce the paper needed, the costs go way beyond this. The network needed to distribute the paper is significant and it still does not become available to everyone because of the distances involved.
There are also other big savings potential in changing the model from a centralized source to distributed sources. We see this approach being used by Nuevo Radio Ya. Most of their news comes from individuals who call in and report on an event rather than dispatching a news crew to gather the information. There is no reason this model can not be developed into reliable yet very cost-effective news sources.
The biggest problem I see is revenue sources. The consumer is used to low costs for their news. Those costs are paid for by advertising. Advertisers have been hesitant to pay a lot of advertising on web pages and in electronic editions of publications. A few years ago, my experience was that advertisers would pay only about 10% per read of the cost they would pay in print media.
This is changing. Part of the change is that advertisers are seeing results. Another benefit is that the lead time for the consumer seeing an ad has gone from days (for newspapers) or months (for magazines) down to hours. Ad targeting is another advantage of electronic advertising. Just looking here on NL, the AdSense ads that appear in the right sidebar are selected automatically by the AdSense service based on the content of the page.
Bottom line is that, yes, newspapers in Nicaragua will die. Not because Nicaragua is particularly special but because newspapers will die everywhere. This may happen earlier in Nicaragua than many places just because Nicaragua has a good mix of wireless delivery methods and a word of mouth network where newspapers have never been able to compete.