Saturday, December 20, 2008

Restart: Branded Journalism

I am returning to this long-abandoned blog to play with a few concepts that have been floating around my head. Specifically, what is the future of journalism?

You don't have to go far around the web to find people lamenting the fall of newspapers, even as they take full advantage of all the publishing freedom the web offers. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that life is over because newspapers face certain death.

The way I see it, people will always want information. In fact, they'll pay when the information will benefit them in some way. However, we've created a situation in which people believe the basic information in life is free. So what we have is a demand and when there is a demand there will always be a supply.

The question isn't whether journalism will survive, but how it gets funded and who does the funding. I believe that funding will come from brands. Yes, those brands can be news brands like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but they can also be from companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Over the next few weeks I'll expand on this.

But in doing research I spent some time playing with the New York Times company numbers and present the following two charts. This first compares revenue from circulation and advertising. If you notice, circulation revenue remains relatively steady while advertising revenue is on a relative decline.

The second chart compares circulation by source. The numbers seem relatively steady year over year, with the exception of single copy (newsstand) sales, which show a precipitous decline.

I have more research to do to see whether this is just the Times or industry wide, but the advertising decline seems to be almost independent of readers, and the increase in online readership seems to relate only to newsstand sales. This doesn't make sense from a business perspective, but I believe that it is not that newspapers are dying, but that they were never built on a solid advertising base to start.

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