Why newspaper circulation is in free-fall

By JD Lasica on New Media Musings

Bob Cauthorn, former GM of SFGate, in Corante today: Newspapers, meet precipice: It’s the product, stupid. He uses Tuesday’s announcement of 500 layoffs at the New York Times/Boston Globe/IHT as the jumping-off point for an essay on the newspaper readership death spiral. Excerpt:

In October metro newspapers across the country will post astonishing year-over-year declines.

The circulation fall-off at large metro papers will be between 9% and 15%. Smaller market and mid-sized market newspapers will fair slightly better. But across America, the average decline will be somewhere between 3% and 5% year-over-year. …

Nationally, the average time people spend on newspaper web sites is under four minutes. Clearly, people are reading a story or two and leaving. That’s not to say that online readership doesn’t matter — hell, online readership is my religion — but let’s be honest about how people use newspaper web sites. You can’t transform the media by lying to yourself about it. …

Digital media will be recognized for exactly what it is: a full medium in its own right, with its own internal logic, unique advantages, specific shortcomings and opportunities. Newspaper companies will begin to ask the proper questions about digital media, instead of simply mumbling about cannibalization and print.

What are the right questions? Just a few starters: what form should storytelling take online, what is the natural and robust role the community plays, what does geo-focused and just-in-time news delivery look like, does data presentaion itself become a story, what does true interactivity looks like, how can the social conversation be distributed now, what level of personalization is valuable and what level is numbing to the intellect, how can digital media provide real value to local advertisers?

All of it, dead on.

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