Newspapers in 2013: Not dead, just different

As Mark Twain, noted American humourist declared in 1897, “The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated.” The same could be said of print newspapers in 2013.

For much of the last century, print media organizations have staked their revenue success on the business of selling readers to advertisers. Circulation, readers per copy and time spent with the publication has always been valued metrics. Demographic profiling that touted the spending power of readers was paraded before potential advertisers in the hope they would pay to have their message in front of this desirable group.

While many of those same publications have struggled with the shrinking advertising budget of clients, increased fragmentation of media, and the limits of the traditional one-way pull strategy of print ads, quietly a shift has been taking place.

Some early mavericks, brave enough to erect pay walls to access valuable content, are now seeing success. Believing that publishing on digital platforms doesn’t mean you have to give away content, they have seen a steady increase in paid digital subscriptions. The New York Times announced recently that revenue from circulation exceeded revenue from advertising for the first time ever. Yes, you may want to read that again. That is a major shift, and the Times is likely an indication of an early tipping point. (

So how exactly did this happen when many media watchers were announcing the imminent death of newspapers and magazines? While we have generally become accustomed to information on the web being accessible for free, those pundits simply assumed the revenue model of the last century, essentially one honed post industrial revolution would continue. Clearly a shift is taking place. And it just might be those tablets, heralded as the death nail of print, that actually become the savours, offering the platform to consume digital content on the go.

As print media companies struggle to adapt to the shifting revenue model, good content, as it always has, will sell.

Mary Charleson


  1. Here is an interesting opinion from the publisher of a prominent news weekly where I live. He shared via email, so I have re-posted it here to share:

    “Paywalls might work for trusted media with top-notch journalism and financial information, such as NYT, WSJ and FT, but mediocre newspapers will continue to suffer and die unless they can adapt. Online and mobile competition is a whole new game. TV had to adapt to a 500 channel universe, but their task was relatively easy because of regulation. Newspapers have to compete against thousands of unregulated online blogs attacking their niche markets. If they are to survive, newspapers will have to be better than ever while earning less than ever — at least in the short term. Those that do survive in the long term will find new revenue models radically different from most of what we see today”.

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