Will the Internet put newspapers out of business?
That's a question that's been at the top of mind for me these last few days. My husband has worked in the newspaper industry for roughly ten years and I have made moves very recently to get into the business too (I even had an interview yesterday). But, given that newspaper circulation and readership have been reliably declining and even the best papers with the most name recognition have been losing money, it hardly seems like a intelligent career move.
Why? The Internet can be considered a disruptive innovation - a new way of getting a job done that renders the previous way obsolete. Consider what effect it's had on the travel industry. Now, you can search online for cruises, airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, and even villas to rent for a week in Tuscany. You no longer need a travel agent.
Craigslist is a perfect example of a disruptive innovation, and, it's one that spells demise for the classified advertising wing of newspapers, a major source of revenue. Why pay for an ad in the newspaper when craigslist will do it for free?
When it came time to collect data for my dissertation, I set my study up online. What's more, I could have hired the newspaper to help me recruit participants but elected not to. I recognized that people would not go online after seeing my ad, but they might participate if they were already online. So, I placed ads in a different city each week for a year through craigslist. I paid nothing and have 4,000 participants to show for the small investment of time. If my local newspaper had a newsletter it emailed to subscribers, I would have considered placing an ad.
Unfortunately for the local paper, craigslist arrived in the nearest city within the last month and should be in Walla Walla very soon. Then what?
As much as a might consider myself a depressive realist, I am at my core an optimist. I think newspapers can turn things around.
The most exciting ideas for how to do this come from Newspaper Next, a product of the marriage of the American Press Institute with Innosight, a consulting firm.
One of the recommendations that comes out of this report (and I unabashedly admit I am a biased reader here) suggests that hiring bright, creative outsiders will keep newspapers from becoming dinosaurs. It will be interesting to see what develops!