Monday, March 9, 2009

Newspapers, remember them?

Ad Age, the nearly superfluous analog edition, has a chart today "Where 1990's Top Papers Are Now." You can find it here for free:">">

The chart lists 1990s top circulation papers, ranging from #1, The Wall Street Journal at 1.857 million daily readers to #25, The Arizona Republic at 330 thousand readers. Of the 25 papers on this chart, 20 of them have seen declines in circulation--some, like the Detroit Free Press, the Miami Herald and the Boston Herald have seen circulation decline precipitously, between 49% and 53%. There are just two papers that are up in double digits: USA Today, up 60% and The New York Post, up nearly 23%.

Ad Age with their usual journalistic perspicacity has no numbers on online readers, but Ad Aged has its suspicions and its thoughts on this.

First, if printed newspapers have allowed themselves to become irrelevant, so be it. The idea of a daily press was a technological marvel when it burst onto the scene some centuries ago. It was the first time in human history that a wide-swath of people could get news virtually instantaneously. Today, printed news papers don't serve that function. In fact, you'd have you'd have to think long and hard to discover anything they do better than their digital counterparts--except that you can read them on the train and use them to pick up after your dog.

Newspapers are dying not because of a dumbing down of the public or the decline in advertising. They are dying because, like agencies, they haven't found a way to stay meaningful. And they haven't found a way to charge for ads that run in their online editions. In fact, they've made it easy for major advertisers to be picayune. The largest brands in the country routinely run ads that are postage-stamp-sized. Like much of the advertising industry, newspapers have allowed advertisers to judge the efficacy of ads solely on click throughs, not impressions or brand metrics. In other words they have pushed advertisers into buying small and virtually meaningless ads because they get proportionally more clicks than ads that might help build a brand.

My point here is really simple and only nominally about newspapers. In fact, despite all the words above, I can sum my point up in two: Be Relevant.

There was a time when you wanted to see how much a car cost, you went to the newspaper. There was a time when you wanted to tell the world about your brand, you went to an ad agency. No more.

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