Readers first

Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, blogged recently about some of the things his firm is doing to help shore up the economics of news.

In his post, Varian does a credible job of establishing the long-term decline of news in print. Newspaper circulation per U.S. household peaked in 1947 (yes, six decades ago). Ad revenue in real dollars has been flat over most of that time. Varian points out that ad revenue by any measure has been declining since 2005.

Varian appears fond of newspapers, perhaps too much so. For example, he attributes the limited amount of time spent with online news content to constraints placed on people reading news at work.

I’ve not done time and motion studies, but it strikes me that as a format, newspapers are efficient for the producer and inefficient for the consumer. In an era of lean consumption, that’s a recipe for failure.

After all, newspapers didn’t lose classified advertising because readers were at work. They lost those ads to ugly search options like Craigslist because the online experience was more effective, efficient and (in terms of user time) less costly.

I love news, but I’ve grown less fond of newspapers. I’m sorry that the next business model doesn’t look like the old one, but … it doesn’t. We should start with what readers need and work backwards.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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