The Globe & Mail (Toronto) as well as the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen will not put ink to paper on Monday, a Labour Day holiday north of the border as well as here.
The rationale? Insufficient advertising revenue.
Newspaper publishers have clung to their print editions because the advertising revenue remains greater there than it is online. And although online distribution is much less expensive than ink, paper and gasoline, digital ads are not sufficient to support the traditional newsroom.
Reduced physical output is inevitable. But canceling an edition on such short notice is extraordinary.
The Seattle P-I was one of the first to react to the changing economics of digital information. Hearst terminated its joint publishing agreement with the Seattle Times and went digital only.
That was in 2009.
At about the same time, the Christian Science Monitor transitioned to an online-first newspaper, the first national paper to make such a change. It shifted from daily Monday-to-Friday to once-a-week print production.
Earlier this summer, the Portland Oregonian announced it would reduce home delivery to four days a week. The Seattle Times implemented a paywall earlier this year, and the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot News dropped to a three-days-a-week publishing schedule in January.
Since 2010, the Detroit News has run its presses Monday through Saturday but the paperboy delivers only on Thursday and Friday. Notice which day is missing: the historically largest, most-packed with ads (another word for revenue) edition. Likewise, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, another award-winning paper, publishes seven days a week but delivers only three. One of those is Sunday.
Last year, the New Orleans Times Picayune reduced its publishing schedule to three days a week. This year, it resurrected the daily edition in response to competition and unhappy readers. But reversals like this one are rare.
Readers may think that we “pay” for the paper out of our wallets but in reality we pay with eyeballs. Advertisers have many more options to reach potential customers than a century ago when newspapers held a virtual monopoly on providing a cheap entree into our homes. Consequently, advertising market share has dropped with every disruptive competitor, beginning with radio then television and now the internet.
This summer Pew reported: “Print advertising fell for a sixth consecutive year in 2012, and not by just a little – it dropped $1.8 billion, or 8.5%.” Not only are national corporations shifting their ad dollars, industry consolidation means that there are fewer corporations that need to buy ads. And Price Waterhouse projects revenue to decline for another four years.
Expect more papers to reduce delivery and production.
In the meantime, some papers continue to try to save themselves into solvency by cutting staff and reducing the quality and size of the paper in the process. This is a sure recipe for failure.
Digital distribution is the future. Mobile phones, tablets and ereaders with sharing as simple as the tap of a button. But where will the revenue come from?
See more articles on media economics.