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The future of newspapers is what?

By Staff | Mar 3, 2012

I have this friend who claims to read up to a dozen newspapers a day.

Yet, his fingers do not touch paper and ink.

He reads daily and weekly newspapers on his portable digital device (PDD). In his case it is an iPad, but it could just as well be a Kindle Fire or some other tablet or a laptop computer. It could even be his phone.

Reading might be an overstatement. He scans newspapers’ websites, looking for interesting tidbits of news. Of course, that is what many of our regular subscribers do as well.

Some of his newspaper websites are not newspapers at all. They are news services, television station websites, or even citizen journalists opinions (bloggers).

“What’s up with you newspapers,” he asked me one day. “You are all different with your websites.”

He showed me what he meant.

A couple of the websites he perused were similar to the one produced here at the Faribault County Register.

They contained some of the stories and a few pictures from the current printed issue of the paper but not all of the stories.

One weekly newspaper was uploading stories to its site as they were written, one at a time. By the end of the week, when the regular newspaper hit the stands, the whole thing was also available on the website.

A couple of the sites contained the whole entire newspaper, with a PDF of each page appearing on his screen. That was pretty much like reading the entire printed version of the newspaper, page by page.

One of those sites was a week old. The current version of the paper was only available in the printed form. But, the older version was totally available electronically every word, picture and ad.

Another paper had all of its current pages on their site but the reader had to subscribe to the site in order to see that current issue or even any of the back issues for that matter.

The subscription price for the e-version of the paper was slightly less than that of the printed edition.

He had one daily newspaper on his list that let him read up to five stories before it cut in with a request that he sign up to pay to be a regular reader.

Another couple of dailies were on his digital bookshelf on his PDD. He paid a fee to Amazon or someone to have them there, along with a magazine and a few books.

“What is up with newspapers?” he repeated. “Are you guys going all digital, or are you just going to go away?”

My best answer is that newspapers are evolving and most don’t know what the future will be.

Most newspapers are keeping up their printed version and will for a long time yet to come. But, they are trying to embrace a brave new world as best they can. Most have websites and many have Facebook pages.

We do here at the Register, and they are growing in popularity.

I mentioned before that we have a lot of visitors to our Register website. It is also growing in readership.

We averaged 31,000 pageviews per month during 2011. But the views per month were increasing near the end of the year.

Now, in January of 2012, we had over 36,000 pageviews.

February hit a record all-time high of 58,305 pageviews. A lot of that came at the end of the month and probably can be directly tied to the murder that occurred in Blue Earth. The Monday of that week there were 7,700 pageviews on the Register website, whereas we normally have 1,100 per day.

We know we need to be delivering our news in this digital fashion. We just need to figure out how to do it, and how to make a buck doing it.

Our printed newspapers still can make enough money to keep the operation in business. The electronic version, not so much. Even having paid subscribers to the service does not mean it can be self sustained.

Newspapers that have tried going all digital have generally failed financially. One e-paper in a Southern Minnesota city went out of business in less than one year.

It is hard to run a business for very long that doesn’t make a profit or at least break even.

Are newspapers dead or dying? Not yet. Not even close.

Wounded a little? Maybe.

Evolving? Definitely.

What will they look like in the future? We will just have to wait and see.

Thanks for reading us. Whether it is on paper or pads or phones.