Monday morning I went out to get the newspaper off the driveway to find that it consisted of exactly 8 pieces of paper.
There was a light breeze blowing and I am surprised it did not pick the paper up and blow it away.
The doubled up rubber band was in danger of damaging this frail publication.
The whole package consisted of 7 full sheets that add up to 4 pages when folded and one half sheet that was just 2 pages.
So the San Jose Mercury News, the self-proclaimed paper of Silicon Valley, which bears the name of the 10th largest city in the United States, managed to fill out all of 30 pages with the news it considered essential to print.
Well, not 30 pages of news.
I estimate that 10 pages of the paper was ads, which is a somewhat low percentage for a newspaper. They make most of their money off of ads rather than the $230 a year I pay to have it delivered daily to my house.
But this is the trend these days for general news publications. Time and Newsweek, which both get delivered to our home are also thin shells of their former selves. They should merge. Editorially they ceased to be distinct at least a few years back. And visually, until a few weeks ago, they were almost indistinguishable past the cover page. Somebody at Newsweek must have noticed this because they redid the layout to emphasize opinion pieces and remove actual news reporting. It has become Opinionweek.
Of course, the dependence on reporting actual news damns them all, the paper, the magazine, and any other print media outlet that takes a generalist line, because I’ve already read about almost any key story on the web before a periodical can reach me. The front page of the paper is often a checklist of things I saw on the web yesterday.
And even general media in specific areas has faded. Remember Byte Magazine? A general magazine to cover all computing! It was great in its day. But is there room for a general computing magazine any more? And general magazines in even smaller domains still have faded, like Games for Windows Magazine. They couldn’t keep that going with Microsoft behind them.
So what is the future of print media? How do you keep going when the web is reporting stories first and stealing all your ad revenue? Do you have to go completely niche to survive?
AviationWeek, another magazine that comes to our home seems to be doing okay. It serves a very specific audience and delivers news that almost never makes it to any general web media outlet. You won’t find anything about the ongoing delays in the Airbus A400M program on the front page of Yahoo.
Air & Space and National Geographic seem to be chugging on, the same as always. I hear that Oprah’s magazine isn’t having any problems. On the other hand I just got the most pathetic plea from Smithsonian Magazine asking me to resubscribe. I’m not even sure how they found me, since it has been at least 10 years since I was a subscriber.
So what is all of this going to look like in 10 years? Will the paper go the way of the horse and carriage? Or will the Mercury News find a niche (like, say, local news) that will keep it going? Will Time and Newsweek be able to soldier on, or will they give up and go the way of US News & World Report and begin the slow fade to obscurity?
Something to think about on a Saturday morning when looking at the biggest edition of the paper this week, which totals out to a bit over 20 pieces of paper, plus the Sunday ad supplement, which hasn’t shown up on a Sunday in the last 20 years to my recollection, so I should probably stop calling it that.