Noted columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee pointed out that the newspaper business is about content and conveyance in a speech to attendees of WTA’s 2008 Spring Meeting in Napa, CA. Within this framework, Walters explained how the newspaper business is evolving as both the creation of content and the means of delivering it to the consumer are changing.
Walters stated that the content side of the newspaper business has never been more robust. Implicit in his comments was the idea that it is easier than ever to create content, given the proliferation of low-cost tools, such as the web for research, digital photos and electronic publishing.
He cited how he is creating more content than ever and how some of it never actually reaches the printed newspaper. This conveyance of news and advertising is the other part of the equation that is rapidly changing as consumers are increasingly consuming media in an electronic form. This electronic publishing allows thoughts to flow from author to reader with little or no intervention by third parties (e.g. elimination of typesetting).
The challenge for newspapers is that dis-intermediation is taking what used to be a 30% margin business and dropping it to 15%. As a result, we continue to see newspapers cut their operating expenses any way they can, such as through layoffs, consolidation and reduced page count.
In response to my question, Walter stated that he thinks newspapers will still be around in printed form in 5 years. I wish I had re-framed the question to be, at what point will the printed newspaper cease to exist? With new screen technologies and the promise of electronic paper, this reality the "paperless newspaper" is probably closer than we think.