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Newspapers, We Love You But We Can Only Say, RIP

Monday, June 18, 2012
PHUKET: Newspapers suffered a heart attack today that will lead many of them around the world to an early death.

The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age, once among the world's most profitable broadsheets, are to become tabloids, put their online products behind paywalls and sack almost 2000 staff.

That's the convulsion that comes with the heart attack. For the generation who have grown up online and who wonder what the fuss is all about yet don't have the time to read this entire article, the last paragraph will be:

There's nothing any newspaper can do that can't be done as well and faster online. End of argument. End of story. End of newspapers.

For those of you who require a bit more information, cast your mind back to last century when newspapers were essential for anyone who wanted to know what was happening. And the money flowed.

At The Age in the early 1980s, I was the first editor of a preprinted publication that enabled the newspaper to expand its Saturday version from 160 pages to 300 pages. That was almost pure classified advertising, and those Saturday papers were called ''rivers of gold.''

Fifteen years on, as the person in charge of The Age's formative presence online, I found myself butting heads with newspaper lovers who figured the Internet was a fad that would go away. Editors resented our presence.

Today's news is a triumph for realists because, instead of fighting the Internet, Fairfax Media, publishers of the two once-great Australian broadsheets, plans to withdraw life-support and let the print patients slowly fade.

Phuket is a quirky corner of the newspaper publishing world where English readers are fortunate to have had a burst of new sources, both in print and online, in recent times.

Readers will decide for themselves where to find their news. To have two weekly newspapers means the English readers of Phuket have it good.

For those who have stuck with us this far, we could do on and on about the romance of newspapers in their prime. Instead, we will simply repeat what we told the short-attention-span readers earlier:

There's nothing any newspaper can do that can't be done as well and faster online. End of argument. End of story. End of newspapers.

The Deadwood stage is departing soon.

Comments

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Alan; your article is indeed interesting, a good analysis of today's trends for online publishing versus printed media. Despite agreeing on all you stated and putting aside the romance a printed newspaper indeed has, the fact is that printed newspapers do sell, especially here in Thailand. NewspaperDirect, the world leader in digital newspapers with over 2,000 titles in its portfolio and over 100 countries where licence partners download and print/sell digital versions, has 7 printing stations in Thailand, and we all have seen a constant growth in sales in the past 7 years despite the online (cheaper and at times free) competition and despite the hefty price of a foreign newspapers of the same day in Thailand (we sell them at 180-240thb). Ex-pats living here may as well prefer the online version, but tourists and visitors keep purchasing the printed newspaper to take to the breakfast table, and then to the beach or for the bus journey or for the plane trip back, and to save them being hunched over a pc or laptop and relax instead, far from a technology that has taken control of their daily lives back home.
An article on this issue may be appropriate to slightly contrast the absolute certainty some people have that printed newspapers have reached the slowly fade stage. Not yet, not just yet.

Posted by Thomas on June 18, 2012 19:49

Editor Comment:

Hello Thomas. Metropolitan dailies in print form have probably had it. Community papers? We'll see. People who live in cities prefer the comfort of their ipad or something similar now when they catch a train or a bus on their daily commute, where once the printed newspaper provided that same degree of comfort. It's certainly true that people in holiday destinations - shaking off city stresses and with more time to spare - are inclined to seek the familiarity of old-fashioned means of delivery. Whether this vestige of the golden era lasts is what quite a few people would be interested to know. How many people under 35 buy a newspaper in print form, at home or on holiday? I suspect the generational surge will hit everyone eventually. Good journalism, though, should still have a market, whatever the means of delivery. What's happening in Australia is precedent-setting. Other mastheads have adapted before in the US and Britain but the level of prosperity among readers has made the Aussies the leaders in switching to gismos and gadgets for their news. I would not be prepared to bet on holiday markets proving too resilient. Good marketing can cover sea changes temporarily but a sand and sea-proof iPad could prove a game-changer. It would be interesting to hear what readers think.

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A thoroughly interesting article. I am saddened to have to admit that at the tender age of 57, I have bowed to the inevitable and bought a Samsun Galaxy Tablet, with the intention of downloading books on-line. There is a double purpose to this: (i) that many good books are free or cheaper than the printed version; & (ii) with many economy or budget airlines, cabin luggage weight is becoming more reduced & strictly controlled, hence carrying a hundred books in my Galaxy beats the weight & volume of half a dozen paperbacks. I guess I am just moving with the times.

Posted by Logic on June 18, 2012 23:26

Editor Comment:

Yes. I guess some will enjoy print for as long as they can in the same way there must have been people who preferred gas light when electricity came along, or photographers who stuck with film long after digital (almost) matched it.

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I cancelled my (20 years) FAZ abo long time ago. Never buy a newspaper, but sometimes in foreign countries I do, when I do not have my usual internet access. Now I have a iPad GSM, so next time in Thailand, I'll not care anymore.

When I open Chrome I get my favorite dailies to read - worldwide selection -, check my twitter and have my interests served much better in less time. Reading my blogs of interest (like Phuketwan) regular and like the commenting in real time.

When I wait at the doctors, I do not use their mags but mine on my iPad. In the plane I do not care to much about in bored entertainment... my kids love battery life.

I have my information at my fingertips, the retina display is nearly better than print, direct sunlight aside, have one online subscription, (ok two, the economist gave it away free for lifetime in the 1990's... *555), thinking about a second one.

Twitter is getting the stuff I am interested in, in no time to me, that amazes me still... it is a real mind enhancing tool, if you use it right.

Most stuff I get for free. And the stuff I choose to want. And that is really amazing. So much better then the editors choices in the FAZ. It is like changing from a TV with one program to a HD satellite with 500+ content, best of worldwide, with a great remote control (twitter).

Posted by Lena on June 19, 2012 00:04

Editor Comment:

Yes. But quality journalism is not easy to produce and the retreat from ''free'' is now underway. Are people prepared to pay for good journalism? They certainly were once. Today more people seem to be satisfied with a cacophony of online opinions that mirror their own. Newspapers at least challenged your thinking every so often. Today some readers prefer not to be challenged. And like The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, Phuketwan struggles to survive even without print. What's also being lost are the values and ethics of quality publications. There was a time when newspapers would feel obliged to correct their mistakes on a similar scale. These days, the larger the error, the less likely it is to be corrected. Phuketwan is the only publication on Phuket with a code of ethics, and apparently the only media outlet that can still tell the difference between the number of newspapers in a print run and genuine paid circulation figures.


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