Things are Bad for Printed Newspapers But Good For Printed Textbooks

By | October 29, 2010

You know things are bad for newspapers when the CEO of a leading newspaper has to take time during a quarterly earnings call to assure the world that it will continue to print newspapers. That’s what New York Times Co. CEO Janet L. Robinson said last week. “Let me also assure you that our print product is live and well,” Robinson said, last week.

Of course she also talked about how they lost $4.3 million last quarter and outlined the state of the paper’s many digital initiatives (an investment in the news sharing service Ongo; the advent of a pay model for in the first quarter). We talked about this in blogs last month, when Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., told an audience, “We will stop printing The New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.”

However, the writing is on the wall as their digital ventures grow while print dollars decline. Total revenues decreased 2.7 percent in the third quarter of 2010 compared with the third quarter of 2009 as advertising and circulation revenues declined 1.0 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. Online advertising now counts for a 27 percent share of the New York Times Company’s overall ad revenue, as its web ads rose 14.6 percent. This represents a significant turnaround from Q3 2009, when the NYTCo’s online ads fell 7.2 percent.

Start up technology company Ongo has announced $12 million in investments from Gannett Company, The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. The company is poised to launch a consumer service for reading and sharing news and information from multiple publishers. Press Engine, the Times’ promising new app development program is set to launch in the fourth quarter.  Press Engine is reportedly fetching a licensing fee upwards of $50,000 from publishers. Other digital initiatives that Robinson touched on were the growth of Times’ business news blog, DealBook, last week’s release of the “full blown Times” iPad app, and the recent partnership with Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight political stats and polling page.

Unpredictable Media Choices for Textbooks

It is getting harder and harder to predict which consumers will prefer which form of media for which products. Most people assume that all young people want digital devices and older people want paper. But that is not true. I have some grey hair and I read the news everyday either on my computer or my Kindle and I appreciate the up-to-date nature and convenience resulting from electronic versions.

More fascinating are the results of two studies saying college kids prefer paper textbooks. According to the National Association of College Stores and the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network – three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version. Students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way.

Which do you prefer – paper or pixels … and for which publications – newspapers or books?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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One thought on “Things are Bad for Printed Newspapers But Good For Printed Textbooks

  1. Damon Lincourt

    I’ve got a bit of “snow” on my roof, myself. But I come out just the opposite of what Howard’s article suggests.

    I must say, I still LOVE the actual, physical medium of a newspaper. Having said that, I also have to point out that I have no actual subscription. Living in a rural area, only small community papers are available for daily delivery. So it might be accurate to say I have been spoiled as a newspaper subscriber by the internet because I refuse to accept the limited reportage available outside metropolitan papers/websites.

    And I’m not the target consumer of textbooks at present. But given the associated costs of textbooks today–and knowing how many of the options associated with textbooks are still available in ebook formats (highlighting, bookmarks, etc.)–I’d drop my books in a moment for a chance to carry my library on one device.

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