Writers, journos relax: Almost no one is reading you

The end of an era in publishing
Garrison Keillor/Khaleej Times

Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it's all free, and you read freely, you're not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you're like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a website. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you've got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

Back in the day, we became writers through the laying on of hands. Some teacher who we worshipped touched our shoulder, and this benediction saw us through a hundred defeats. And then an editor smiled on us and wrote us a check and our babies got shoes. But in the New Era, writers will be self-anointed. No passing of the torch. Just sit down and write the book. And the New York Times, the great brand name of publishing, will vanish (POOF) whose imprimatur you covet for your book ("brilliantly lyrical, edgy, suffused with light"—NY Times). And editors will vanish.

The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.

Self-publishing will destroy the aura of martyrdom that writers have enjoyed for centuries. Tortured geniuses, rejected by publishers, etc., etc. If you publish yourself, this doesn't work anymore, alas.

Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I'm sorry you missed it.

Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books

'week' in title is asking for trouble -- as in Newsweek

A cultural Artifact, on the Block

By David Carr/NYT

This Wednesday at close of business, the first nonbinding letters of interest are due for Newsweek.

If I were at the Washington Post Company, which is selling the weekly after owning it for almost 50 years, I wouldn't be waiting at the mailbox. Certainly there will be interest, but if a check is going to be written for Newsweek, it may be written by the seller.

How can it be that Associated Content, a content farm that has zero brand recognition, went for a reported $100 million this month to Yahoo, yet Newsweek, a huge part of the national conversation since its founding in 1933, might be valued at less than zero?

It's a cold fact of economic life that the value of a business is an expectation of future growth. If Associated Content will deliver 15 percent annual growth in earnings and Newsweek offers only compounding losses, the smart money will forgo the admired publishing enterprise led by a Pulitzer Prize winner, and instead opt for a business of link-bait stories churned out by people you've never heard of.

That doesn't mean Newsweek is worthless. It is a shiny wonderful name, one that brings to mind Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and its editor, Jon Meacham, all of whom are prominent in important conversations and can be seen all over television sharing their opinions.

But in the current digital news ecosystem, having "week" in your title is anachronistic in the extreme, what an investor would call negative equity.

And in a publishing landscape filled with the lame and infirm, weeklies are the most profoundly challenged. A weekly schedule, with its tight turnarounds and frenzied production, is costly as a matter of course. Monthlies can still do step-backs for readers who don't expect to see what happened five minutes ago, and daily newspapers have co-opted the newsweekly formula to build in real-time analysis. And according to the Publishers Information Bureau, advertising revenue at Newsweek was down a whopping 30.4 percent in 2009.

That math, combined with plummeting subscriptions — an important source of revenue for weeklies — make them a kind of a stepchild. TV Guide, once a huge, robust weekly, sold for $1 back in 2008. (And the seller quietly lent the buyer $10 million to help service some of the obligations that went with buying the magazine.) Business Week went for all of $5 million, and that was to a strategic buyer in Bloomberg.

And who might be the strategic buyer for a weekly with a large footprint in national and international news and commentary? Thomson Reuters is not interested, the big national newspapers would seem to have their hands full and the nascent Web news sites like The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast have no interest in expensive print publications.

But we still care, partly because the prospect of something simply vanishing that we watched our parents read — my dad still loves the magazine — and may have adopted ourselves, seems unthinkable.

Newsweek posted an operating loss of more than $41 million in the last two years. On the plus side, operating losses have been reduced drastically: Losses were $2.3 million for the first three months of this year, down sharply from $17.4 million during the same period in 2009, according to PaidContent. But those savings were achieved in large part by trimming the rate base, the number of copies printed and promised to advertisers, to 1.5 million from 2.6 million. And that's a magic trick that can happen only once. So unless someone is looking for a machine that makes money disappear very quickly, why would they buy Newsweek?

There could be three classes of buyers, all long shots.

THE RICH GUY Pro sports franchises give magazines a run for their money in terms of losing dough, but people still line up to buy. And rooters for Team Israel or autodidacts about immigration reform dream just as vividly about getting their hands on a big megaphone.

ANOTHER WEEKLY If you are a stand-alone property like TV Guide, which is owned by OpenGate Capital, being able to spread back-office and production costs over another weekly would have significant upsides.

THE DIGITAL BUYER Some in the digital peanut gallery have suggested that a buyer could get out of the printing and shipping business, turning Newsweek into a pure digital play. But with a subscription liability — money already paid for magazines not yet received — of more than $40 million, according to two people briefed on the property who would not speak on the record about a sale process that is just getting under way — Newsweek would still have to come out and be delivered for 18 months or more.

Newsweek has already been reinvented, downsized and digitized in almost every way imaginable. If there is a move left on the board to avoid a checkmate, it's hiding in plain sight.

Weep, moan or cry, but don't show this to PR pros

Daily Newspaper Reading (Print or Online) Down to Two in Five
By Jack Loechner
(Research brief from the Center for Media Research)
According to the findings of a new Adweek Media/Harris Poll, of 2,136 US adults surveyed online between December 14 and 16, 2009 by Harris Interactive, the era of Americans reading a daily newspaper each and every day is coming to an end.

Just two in five U.S. adults (43%) say they read a daily newspaper, either online or in print almost every day. Just over seven in ten Americans (72%) say they read one at least once a week while 81% read a daily newspaper at least once a month. One in ten adults (10%) say they never read a daily newspaper.

Frequency of Reading Daily Newspaper (% of Age Groups; Base: All U.S. adults)


Age Group







At Least Once a Month (Net)






   At Least Once a Week (Subnet)






Almost every day






A few times a week






Once a week






A few times a month






A few times a year












Source: The Harris Poll, January 2009

One reason for the dying of the daily newspaper, says the report, is the graying of the daily readership. Almost two-thirds of those aged 55 and older say they still read a daily newspaper almost every day. The younger one is, however, the less often they read newspapers. But less than one quarter of those aged 18-34 say they read a newspaper almost every day while 17% in this age group say they never read a daily newspaper.

One potential business model that newspapers are exploring is charging a monthly fee to read a daily newspaper's content online. This model, however, seems unlikely to work, as 77% of online adults say they would not be willing to pay anything to read a newspaper's content online. While some are willing to pay, one in five online adults would only pay between $1 and $10 a month for this online content and only 5% would pay more than $10 a month.

The report concludes that the struggles of the daily newspaper will continue as Americans have more and more ways to find the news content they need and want. The challenge for newspapers will be discovering a way to get their content to people and make money doing so. One area they were intently exploring was charging for online content, though it appears they need to find another way.

Sorry, the iPad won't save newspapers

Why Apple's iPad won't save the newspaper world
The iPad won't deliver newspapers the revenue streams they dream of because it's seen as more than just a news device
By Peter Preston, The Observer/Guardian
Salvation arrives next week as the iPad goes on sale in Britain – and Mr Rupert Murdoch, no less, sets it high among his pantheon of technical wonders that may rescue newspapers from oblivion. Meanwhile, a recent blog from Professor Roy Greenslade at City University poses a plangent question: Would Murdoch have spent Pound 650m on a printing plant if the iPad had been around?

There are two answers, and both stretch way beyond touting yet another Apple product that may, or may not, revolutionise the media world – in this case a portable touch-screen computer that didn't exist when News International had finished building its new colour presses two years ago.

The first answer majors on simple maths and draws on some heavy figuring by Benedict Evans of Enders Analysis. How many national UK newspapers are sold each day? he asks. Say, 10m. And how many iPads – at £429 and up – will be bought in Britain over the next three years? Somewhere between 1m and 3.6m, depending on a myriad of unpredictable factors.

But how many of those purchasers will actually use their machines for news-reading purposes? And how many of them will then pay for that privilege in any case? Evans, straining every sinew, reckons total revenue, at best, would end up in the £200m to £250m range – and that's before Apple takes its 30%. Set that against the £1.2bn in revenue brought in by quality newspapers through 2008, or the £1.9bn raised by our mass-market tabloids, and what have you got? A trickle of cash that may help a little but won't truly change anything.

We're talking bits and bobs, not salvation. Add in similar calculations for iPhone life and the answer is still the same. The iThis and the iThat are useful, often fascinating, tools. But even if they'd been invented when Mr Murdoch found his green field in Broxbourne, he'd still have needed his giant presses, speeding lorries and full-colour units. There wasn't a big enough alternative revenue stream in prospect then and there still isn't today.

But any second answer goes beyond immediate profit and loss. It deals, crucially, in concepts. It wonders, for starters, what an iPad is.

Evans begins to round out a definition here: "The iPad is not just a news device – it is a multipurpose device." And increasing American testimony, once the rush of a million units bought in the first month begins to abate, supports that broader conclusion.

Alan Mutter, a respected new media consultant and blogger, found that the three most highly rated news apps came from France 24, the BBC and National Public Radio. In short, from broadcasters who could spice their offering with large (free) helpings of video and graphics. These broadcasting companies left newspaper apps from USA Today, the New York Times et al far behind on satisfaction scales (and news companies who charged for their apps, such as Time magazine, at $4.99 a week, were right out of the hunt).

Chuck Hollis, an influential marketing blogger, bought his first iPad the other day and found his wife and kids commandeering it immediately. Within hours his wife was sitting on the back porch with a long drink, playing with the photo app and sending long overdue pictures to friends. Within half a day his kids, home from school, were squabbling over who could have first turn.

Which chimes with one non-blogging New York family I quizzed. The wife lies in bed before sleeping (or breakfast) with iPad primed. The children take it to their rooms and squat with it on the floor. They use it for entertainment and diversion, for games, for socialising, for watching and browsing. They do not see it as a news medium. Least of all – following rather lumpen press logic – do they treat it as a sort of news magazine because it shows you a page the rough size of a magazine.

The iPad – plus heirs and successors, perhaps – isn't some surrogate digital newspaper waiting to rescue Fleet Street. It's different, with a different appeal. It will surely a find a money-coining slot in the digital spectrum. But salvation? That's something else (even before your wife goes upstairs to bed).

Grin and bear it: Bankers are now newspaper bosses

I noted three weeks ago that JP Morgan Chase had become the second largest newspaper owner in the States. Now it has bought a 10.2% stake in America's largest publisher, Gannett (owner of the British Newsquest chain).

When Times' future is in peril, the writing is clear

James Harding, the editor of the Times, has admitted that the long term future of the newspaper is under threat while it makes "unsustainable" losses and that costs need to be cut to free up funds for digital investment to cope with "galloping technological change".

Canada's largest paper to be run by creditors

Creditors Buy Canada's Largest Newspaper Publisher For $1.1 Billion
A group of creditors has purchased Canada's largest newspaper publisher for $1.1 billion. The group is buying Canwest Limited Partners, which includes the National Post along with nine other

Media tremors: Now playing in Malayalam

IRS 2010 Q1: Dailies in Kerala lose readers after gaining in the last round
Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2010 Q1 suggests that nine out of the top 10 dailies in Kerala have lost readers. The only one to gain is Rashtra Deepika,

Newsweek's demise: It's about Time

For generations, Time and Newsweek fought to define the national news agenda every Monday on the newsstand. Before the Internet, before cable news, before People magazine, what the newsweeklies put on their covers mattered.

Media woes exposed: Playboy to bare less, strip staff

Playboy is planning a mix of new sites that it hopes will appeal to a variety of readers and advertisers, company execs said during its Q1 earnings call. In addition to expanding its mobile presence, Playboy is

ABC of cost-cuts: First slash the TV news team

April 28
A brutal round of cuts at ABC News came to a close this week when executives laid off 22 employees Tuesday, a far smaller number than they had expected.