Ironically, the very same NRC edition that contained a review of our conference, also carried the news of The Independent closing down. And today, a local newspaper in Leeuwarden is in desperate need of EUR 100m.
Looking a little more closely at the chances of survival for newspapers, it is useful to distinguish between form, content and other services.
- Paper: clearly on its way out, with Amazon's Kindle going worldwide. Still, nice for specific locations (public transport, restaurants, etc.). In the long run: a typical dinosaur.
- E-reader: saves newspapers a lot in terms of paper, ink and distribution costs. But who is going to pay? There is some resemblance to the femtocell conundrum. Will the end user be willing to pay for a piece of hardware that saves his provider a lot of money?
- Netbook: if newspaper companies adjust their websites to the specs of a laptop or netbook, then they won't need to venture into the risky e-reader market. Instead, they could subsidise netbooks. If they make their websites fully for-pay only, they could make an offer to their subscribers: if you give up your print edition, we will give you a netbook and you can download our newspaper every day for a reduced subscription fee. If they score an MVNO deal, they could have the download process automated and performed daily (or even several times a day) over a 2G or 3G connection (cf. Amazon).
- News: AP, AFP and Reuters aren't going away. Newspapers, relying on printing syndicated news from these sources alone, are on their way out.
- Background stories, in-depth reporting, interviews: here is where a newspaper's value is, I believe.
- Non-content: My NRC newspaper is venturing into community services that are especially appealing to its rather well-defined demographic: trips, books, CDs. Perhaps these services reduce churn somewhat, but I doubt they add much value.
- Content: Since newspapers are in the content industry, they could become portals for customised content by adding related content from a variety of sources. They could add books, blogs etc. to their daily newspaper download to the subsidised netbooks or e-readers.
- Other: newspapers have a billing relation and a more or less well-defined reader demographic, which in theory positions them to become MVNOs or even RSPs on broadband networks.