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Left Coast / Right Coast: The Future of Print Publishing

Mike Gold on an archaic form of transportation. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.
Mike Gold on an archaic form of transportation. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

In last week’s column, we discussed the “re-invention” of broadcast television. How the specialization of content created for television, and movies, was being re-defined from a “one to many” to a “one to one” model. From broadcasting to narrowcasting.

This week, we’ll take a look at print publishing – which has already started down a similar road to “re-invention.

There are approximately 1,700 daily newspapers published in the United States, an additional 8,000 or so weekly newspapers. That does not count publications such as this one, The News of Mill Creek, which is an on-line publication only.

There are also another approximate 8,000 magazine titles published in the U.S. If you look at worldwide titles, use a triple approximation for that market.

There has already been an amalgamation of these papers to more and more of them being acquired by large holding companies. The idea is that by combining all the “production” parts of newspaper publishing, one can save money by using economies of scale. So combining print plants, purchasing (about 1/3 of the cost of publishing a newspaper is the newsprint cost) you save money.

You’d be surprised at how many daily newspapers are no longer printed in their own printing plant. One of my former customers, The Erie Times (Erie Pa) is not only no longer owned by the Mead family (which had owned it for four generations of Meads) but in fact is printed in Cleveland Ohio and trucked to Erie every night.

This is a very common story. Weekly newspapers have been “joint printed” like this for several decades. However, this centralization of production is not a long-term solution to the basic economics forced on us by the Internet.

Print publications will over time simply disappear. Perhaps very highly specialized titles will remain but not forever.

I taught a business course at UW Bothell and a similar one at Everett Community College. Interestingly, I would ask at the start of the quarter how many students took a daily newspaper. About 5% of the class said they did. Then I asked how many of them read the paper because they lived at home and it was their parents who took the paper. Over 90% of them also raised their hands.

The reason is simple; the explosion of internet content has dramatically impacted the cost of producing and distributing a newspaper. One of my friends in the industry would say: “You chop down a bunch of trees, make paper, smear ink on them, then physically drive them to each individual’s home. The next day it is only suitable for wrapping fish.

The economics of doing this simply don’t make sense anymore. More of us are consuming our content electronically and on-line. Look at Amazon and the Kindle electronic reading device. It is so much more economically effective to publish books this way than to actually physically print then distribute them. Not unlike E-Commerce – where Amazon and others are giving a serious run to the old “brick and mortar” stores.

Now let’s look at the actual content. Each of us has our own special interests. As we browse the Internet, there are already dozens of powerful databases that monitor those web sites visited by each of us and creates a profile of you and your own interests.

Here are a couple for you to look at:,,,

Well guess what? Content publishers can purchase this information and actually feed you content created for you as an individual. This can include both the subject matter as well as relevant (so they think) advertising created around your own interests.

I’m certain that you have already noticed that ads based upon your own interests are already appearing as you browse the Internet. That is no accident, but in fact is based upon your browsing habits. It is a simple step from this to creating content that is custom tailored for you individually.

That is the future of print publishing. But, in fact, it will no longer be in printed form. Rather it will be electronic only and readable on the device of your choice.

So the economics of future print content publishing will look more and more like this. You will have your favorite web sites based around content you are interested in. They may have titles such as “The New York Times," "The Seattle Times,” etc. Most of them will be free and paid for by advertising.

It does not matter if it’s cars, electronics or whatever. When you go there to read content that web site will feed you specific content based around your personal interests.

One step further. Look at Amazon Prime or similar services. Right there on your own custom tailored page, will be a “single click through” promotion of something you should be interested in purchasing.

While some of us may think this is a bit intrusive, it will continue to happen to the extent we allow it to. What I mean by this that more and more pop up ads are disappearing from more and more web sites.

Readers “hate” these intrusive ads. So the alternative in the paragraph above is a much more likely way advertisers will reach out to us.