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James D. Zirin: Global News on the Internet — Always a Free Lunch?

The contours of the global media market have undeniably changed. There is too much evidence to deny it. Print journalism is on its way out, taking its place alongside the one-horse shay. Online news and comment is in. In America, the venerable Christian Science Monitor now publishes its weekday editions online with a weekly print version claimed to have “unique” content. Seattle’s Post Intelligencer recently closed its printing presses in favor of an exclusively online edition. The two jointly operated Detroit dailies, the Free Press and the News, just ended home deliveries on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and directed doorstep readers to their respective web sites. Globally, but for a few South American and Asian markets, newspapers continue to cut back or close. In England, just this month, owners slated nine local newspapers for closure, and South Africa’s oldest independent paper, Grocott’s Mail, has shuttered its press room. Web journalism has become the order of the day. Gone soon will be the tactile experience of the daily newspaper. Web-based editions of five daily newspapers, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today and the Financial Times are offered on Amazon’s Kindle at heavy discounts off the newsstand price, and others will likely soon follow suit. The digital generation simply doesn't do "tactile." The reasons for all this, as everyone knows, are economic. Paid circulation for print is down; just as advertising revenues are down. This may be a result of the global downturn, which has caused many advertisers to slash budgets. But it is in large measure, as well, a tribute to the loss of readers to the Internet. Moreover, no one knows how effective print advertising  really is. A classified want ad in a small community newspaper may produce the desired responses, but the ad will cost more in print than a free posting on Craigslist. The undeniable reality is that national bread-and-butter advertising is better targeted on the Net. As John Wanamaker, father of the department store and of modern advertising famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Wanamaker’s statement may not apply to click-and-pay business models on the Internet where effectiveness of the advertising dollar is much more predictable, and ads  are much more sharply targeted to customers  according to geographic location, buying propensities or affluence.

The Index — April 14, 2009

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