The Roles of Newsstands, Archives, and Virtual Newsrooms

On this day when eMarketer estimates that Google is well on the way to capturing 25 percent of all U.S. online advertisement spending and almost twice the amount of Yahoo!’s revenues, with which Google’s revenues only 18 months ago were on par, here are some other issues that my business partner and I are examining:

° What will be the future role of news agents and newsstands? Although they don’t play a sizeable role in distribution of American, Canadian, German, and Japanese newspaper (only about seven percent of circulation in those countries), local newsstands and news agent play a most significant role in most other major countries’ newspaper ecology. Plus they play significant roles in magazine distribution in every country.

In most of the world’s countries, newspapers and their hired wholesalers distributed daily copies to the news agents and newsstands, who then distribute them to you. when you subscribe to home delivery of a daily newspaper, you make your subscription with your neighborhood newsstand or news agent (not directly with the newspaper as is the situation here in the U.S.) The news agents or newsstand has the relationships with the subscribers; the newspapers themselves don’t know who subscribes, just that the wholesalers reports how many copies were sold to the retail newsstand and news agents.

Some digerati simply expect newsstands and news agents to go out of business if newspapers and magazines someday switch entirely to online publication. But that would create a major disruption in countries such as the United Kingdom, where 47 percent of the daily newspapers’ gross revenues came from newsstands and news agents. Must the newspapers forge direct subscription relationships with consumers? Will physical newsstands and kiosks cease to exist? (Do remember that browsing a physical newsstands if much easily than one online.) Or will they be replaced by physical versions of some sort of electronic kiosk?

° More immediately on that topic, we’ve today been helping a U.S. investment client ascertain what the U.K. Office of Fair Trade’s provisional decision-making about news agent competition means for major newspaper and magazine distribution wholesalers such as W.H.Smith, Menzies, or Dawson News.

In the U.K. wholesalers grant news agents and newsstands exclusive rights to distribute certain titles in specific geographical areas (a rural town, a one block radius in London, etc.). Since 2004, the OFT has been investigating whether such exclusivity is anti-competitive and disserves consumers. It last year issued a provisional finding that these exclusivities weren’t anti-competitive with newspapers but were with magazines. Several months ago, it however changed its findings to say the exclusivities are anti-competitive for newspapers, too. It’s still investigating, and will issue new findings in the spring.

° Would the regional press be better served using virtual newsrooms? We know several reporters at various regional newspapers who’ve gotten into trouble by not being at their newsroom desks five days and 40-hours per week. They’ve defended themselves by pointing out that news doesn’t occur in newsrooms. That’s all too true. The successful newsroom was an empty one 25 years ago because all its reporters who expending shoe leather, but too many corporations now consider an emply desk or cubicle in a newsroom to mean that the reporter isn’t doing her job.

Today’s technologies allow reporters to work from anywhere. So, why should they be physically anchored to their newsroom for most of the work day? Newsrooms are a great place for reporters and editors to have story conferences, but with instant messaging, SMS, person-to-person webcasting and voicecasting, mobile devices, etc., the reporter should be able to work from his car, home, local coffee shop, or the news scene. Why chain them to an Atex or SII mainframe six or eight hours each day?

Many journalism schools teach how to report using multimedia and new technologies, but none teach editors how to use those technologies to replace the newsroom itself. It’s time that was done.

° Open archives. How much are newspapers really making by charging for online access to stories that might be more than a week old? Do they earn more that way than the online advertising revenues from opening up their entire archives to consumers and search engines? Are publishers being foolishly doctrinaire by charging for archives?

° Regarding paid online content, Netimperative has a B2B case study about how Macmillian’s onestopenglih.com, a site for English-language teachers, successfully converted from free to paid access.

° American business publications in print took a revenue bath last month. The Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ Talking Biz News reports Magazine Publishers Association data showing large drops in advertising pages and revenues.

Though Barron’s, The Economist and Inc magazines showed increases in ad revenue,
Forbes 4.2 percent, Smart Money 5.4 percent, Money 6.6 percent, em>Business 2.0 fell 7.4, BusinessWeek 8.9 percent, Kiplinger 19 percent, and Fortune 28.1 percent (after that magazine had already declined 12 percent in August). It’s odd that business magazines would have less advertising once the summer vacation season ended.

° The Financial Times and the weekly New York Sun published ‘think’ articles about the future of the American newspaper industry, and both make the same point about profit margin versus product development.

The FT story contrasts the Los Angeles Times and the St. Petersburg Times. The former is owned by the publicly-traded Tribune Company and the latter owned by a not-for-profit trust. The FT‘s reporter suggests that Wall Street demanding too much profit (“trying to push profit margins beyond 20 per cent”) comes at the expense of keeping newspapers viable.

The Sun‘s story looks at The Los Angeles Times and the now defunct Knight Ridder Inc., and is a bit more blunt:

It seems its [Knight Ridder] 32 daily newspapers had been able to record “only” a 20% return on investment in recent years.

Cut back on the quality of a newspaper in order to show an impressive short-term return for the market’s sake, and the slide toward disaster has begun. Readers will notice and begin drifting away, and advertisers will soon follow. It won’t be long before the vultures are circling.

° Last but not least, the online news pioneer Milverton Wallace, who’d organized the European NetMedia conference during the new-media industry’s first decade, looks at the long-term changes underway, in an essay he’s written for the Club of Amsterdam.



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I’ve quite literally been watching construction of two new facilities in the U.S. that might become important for new-media journalism. The first is Newhouse III (above), construction of which is well underway at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication. The other facility is the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. There are steerable webcams overlooking the construction of Syracuse’s Newhouse III and Missouri’s Reynolds Institute.

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