Sunday, January 18, 2009

The end of the "second paper"

This week it was announced that the Tucson Citizen has been put up for sale by its owner, Gannett, and will be closed if there is no buyer within sixty days. The chances of anyone buying it are pretty slim -- who wants a mid-market paper with 17,000 circulation?

Similar announcements have been made in recent weeks about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Denver's Rocky Mountain News. What all three papers have in common is that each is the #2 paper in its market, and the demand for newspapers is no longer sufficient to support two papers per city, other than in New York and maybe a few other places.

Some have predicted that there may soon be major cities with no papers. I'm not convinced that's going to happen, and I hope it doesn't, but it's hard to rule it out at this point.

While the recession will no doubt take the blame from some, what is happening now is just the effect recessions have of speeding up the demise of already-weak businesses. Newspapers have needed a new business model for some time, but have yet to find it. Here's an interesting article from Wharton School of Business suggesting some fixes, including turning themselves into non-profits, becoming niche businesses rather than mass-market, and trying to make people pay for on-line content (it works for the Wall Street Journal, but New York Times failed at it). I don't know which, if any, of those solutions will work, bt I wish the people of the newspaper business good luck in finding the solution.

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