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Will newspapers die?

A journalism student in Toronto, Canada, asked me some questions via e-mail about my old article about newspapers and online reading. Instead of just sending an e-mail out in the void I thought I’d persist my answers here:

1. Do you think it would be best for newspaper publications to get rid of their print and go strictly online only? Why or why not?

I think they should keep their print papers for a while longer. It’s a simple question of profit and catering to what users want. If you have thousands of users that want their paper, and it’s economically justifiable, just keep it.

The tricky part is determining how much loss in paper subscribers you should tolerate before shutting down the huge printing presses. I have no good answer to that other than to know your numbers. Paper profit needs to cover paper printing and distribution. Journalism costs can be split between channels. Do the math.

2. Many people believe newspapers are dying and eventually will no longer exist. What are your thoughts on this?

I think they will persist, just not their paper versions. Many of them are looking at dwindling subscription numbers, year after year, and are trying to figure out what to do. How do you move to the digital worlds while keeping quality, relevance, and profit.

The iPad is one way to get people to pay for news again, and some newspapers are seeing success doing that. Over a longer haul just the iPad won’t be enough, you need to be able to deliver your news to wherever your customers want them. Generally, this means being able to get your content on all kinds of devices, both mobile and desktop. The only format that can really do that, and still deliver a somewhat consistent design across devices, is HTML and CSS. Building one native app for each platform is just not worth it.

So it’s simple really: newspapers that figure out how to transition to digital (while still getting paid enough to afford quality journalism) will persist, all others will (slowly) die. This means an end to both paper-only newspapers, and those that fail to find the right payment model.

Friendly Bit is a blog by Emil Stenström, a Swedish interface developer and web strategist that blogs about the modern web and how to make best use of it.