[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 18:09 GMT
Dead trees with print on them
By Guto Harri
BBC North America business correspondent

It's not a romantic image, but it's increasingly appropriate.

San Jose Mercury News
Unlike computers, newspapers pass the "toilet and beach test"

The familiar cliche, dead trees with print on them, describes a product that is increasingly unattractive in the United States.

Newspaper circulation has been falling here since 1988, but it got significantly worse last year.

According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the top 50 newspapers in America's big cities lost 4.1% of their readers in the 12 months ending last September.

Some were worse than others. Circulation at the Washington Post was down 7%. The LA Times lost 9.3%.

A major survey entitled The State of the News Media in 2005 concluded that the "circulation erosion of print newspapers appears likely to continue".

Moving to the web

Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, has noticed the change, and he's had to find new ways of hanging on to his readers.

His journalists now produce pod-casts, blogs and a continuous news desk, and it's paid off to a large extent.

Their website now attracts seven million "unique visitors" a month.

Mr Bronstein acknowledges that, "the old business model is not working that well", but he's not sure how his paper can make enough money in the future.

Advertisers, like readers, are moving to the web, but they're not moving fast enough and they're not spending as much as they used to on traditional newspapers.

Online advertising tends to generate only 20 to 30 cents for every dollar lost in the print edition of a large newspaper.

Luxury paper

Part of the problem for newspapers is that there are cheaper forms of advertising on the web.

Classified adverts, which used to provide a steady revenue stream for newspapers, have been disappearing fast.

Newspaper vendor in Philadelphia
Is paper a luxury means of distribution?

About 190 cities around the world now have a Craigslist, a free website that allows you to buy and sell almost anything for nothing.

Why pay a newspaper to advertise you flat, car or missing cat when you can reach millions for free?

Craig Newmark, who started it all, is conscious that many newspapers feel he's bled them dry, but he sees a future for newspapers with good writers and a personality.

He does not see a future for print, though.

"Paper is going to become a luxury means of distribution," he says.

Mr Bronstein disagrees, pointing out that there's a curious attachment to news that people can hold in their hand.

Media labs are working on wireless receivers that could imitate that, but he says they'll have to pass "the toilet test and the beach test".

He seems confident that a group of people will want something they can read in the bathroom or on a deck chair for another 20 years.

And a newspaper, in the strictest sense, must surely involve dead trees with print on them.

Knight Ridder bought for $4.5bn
13 Mar 06 |  Business


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific