Newspaper and Book Industries Fading Fast

Posted on December 30, 2009

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We’ve reached the bitter end of the first decade of the new century. It’s also the end of the line for Editor & Publisher, trade journal of the newspaper industry in North America, and its sister publication, Kirkus Reviews, a leading book industry journal.

Nielson Business Media announced in December that it is closing Editor & Publisher and Kirkus immediately. Nielson is also selling Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, and some other publications.

The newspaper industry and the book industry — the print media — have been in decline throughout this unforgiving decade.

Editor & Publisher, a weekly since its founding in 1901, barely survived the 20th century. E&P went from weekly to monthly early in the past decade, and its circulation was down to about 12,200 in 2009.  Unless a white knight steps forward to save E&P, the January 2010 issue, to be mailed next week, will be the final edition. Dec. 31 may or may not be the last day that the staff updates Editor & Publisher Online.

The failure of Editor & Publisher is a dreary milestone for the foundering newspaper industry. What does it say about an industry when it is no longer large enough to support a trade journal? In another sign of the state of newspapers, Heartland Publications, publisher of 23 dailies and other publications in nine states, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month. That makes at least a dozen newspaper company bankruptcies in this, the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The Tribune Corp., owner of the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times and other major metropolitan dailies, filed for bankruptcy a year ago, in December 2008.  In November it asked the Bankruptcy Court’s indulgence to continue its reorganization efforts through March 2010, when it is scheduled to emerge from bankruptcy. Sam Zell stepped down as CEO of Tribune Corp. earlier this month, but continues as chairman of the board.

The newspaper industry was shaken from its profitable complacency by the 1990 Recession, and has been in decline ever since. Many newspapers, including the Baltimore Evening Sun, have ceased circulation since 1990.

In the past few years, the trend has been for newspapers to attempt to shift their readers from dead-tree newsprint to the newspaper Web sites. Print circulation and advertising have continued to decline at major newspapers during the 2008-2009 Recession. Most newspapers have not yet figured out how to make a profit from their Web sites.

During 2009, a few newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press, sharply reduced production of their paper editions. The Free Press, reduced its home delivery service from seven days a week to just three days: Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.

It used to be that  weekly newspapers aspired to grow and go daily. Now, the trend is in reverse. Three days a week may be the emerging paradigm for metro dailies. Who can say how many days a week the Baltimore Sun will be published, when Tribune Corp. emerges from bankruptcy in 2010.

Despite falling circulations, I’m optimistic that America’s best dailies, like the Washington Post and New York Times, will continue as vigorous, seven-day newspapers. Smaller and rural dailies and weeklies may be better suited for survival in their markets than the big dailies.

In the book industry, meanwhile, I’ve read that publishing companies are in a panic over the continuing growth of Amazon.com, and especially the roll-out of the Kindle.  The book industry has at least two remaining trade publications after the demise of Kirkus.

The print era, which began with Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in Europe in the 15th century, is fading fast in the 21st century.

— Bernie Hayden

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