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Impact of the Internet on Newspaper Circulation:

One could imagine that the Internet could be either a complement or a substitute for traditional media, although casual empiricism suggests that it is a substitute. This new paper finds that to be the case. From the abstract:

A growing literature documents that electronic media draw consumers from traditional media markets. Less work examines how the internet has altered the audience for traditional media. Using zipcode-level newspaper circulation and market-level internet penetration, this paper provides evidence that the internet differentially attracts younger, educated, urban individuals away from daily newspapers. Greater internet penetration is associated with higher newspaper circulation among blacks and Hispanics, who thus far are less likely to connect.

But here's the part of the paper that is pretty cool--the print media has to some extent responded endogenously to this development by changing its coverage patterns to increase focus on issues of interest to those who have not switched to the Internet, as well as issues (such as investigative reporting) where the Internet is not as close of a substitute:

Evidence suggests the spread of the internet is also associated with changes in newspaper coverage, with greater emphasis on minorities, education, crime and investigative reporting.

The paper is on BE Press and I can't figure out whether this is generally downloadable or what, so I apologize if you can't get to it.

trad and anon:
No paper access here. Too bad!

Does the paper address the extent to which the substitution of the Internet for newspapers is really the substitution of newspaper websites for newspapers?
9.4.2008 12:11pm
Zywicki (mail):
trad and anon: No, that's one thing the paper says it doesn't study, the extent to which the substitution is from the print to the electronic form of the local newspaper in particular.
9.4.2008 12:21pm
TCO:
If you register, it will allow you to download the paper as a "guest". I had to do it twice (wonky server).

Haven't read the paper yet, but my general impression from way back in the 90s was that there was an awful lot of silliness about complement from web advocates. Some of them justified piracy under this point of view (even were it good "advertising", such piracy would be forceful advertising). Also there was huge resistance to subscriptions as anti-web. Which they are in a sense. Still look at the WSJ, who actually made money. Heck, look at online gaming. Or...well...look how much money people pay for purchased media dealing with...well...you know. ;-)
9.4.2008 12:30pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
I've discussed this with several newspaper friends and they believe the impact is large and growing, as more people get online. Biggest threats are things like Craig's List and the search engines being used to find local vendors instead of people reading ads. That means little opportunity to recapture the ad revenues by shifting to an online edition. Even investigative reporting is shifting to blogs, forums, and meetup groups, but I get that much of that shift is because people have lost confidence in newspapers as investigators, because they are too vulnerable to pressure from those they might investigate.
9.4.2008 12:33pm
neurodoc:
Sam Zell could have told the authors this based on his unhappy experience after purchasing the Chicago Tribune last year. Am skeptical about any increased attention and resources going to investigative reporting, since the great print media lament is that investigative reporting is a very expensive undertaking and has suffered greatly as circulation has dropped and ad revenue dwindled.

TCO, supposedly WSJ content was to be "free" online, but one can't look at WSJ content the way they can NYT or WaPo content, can they? (I can access WSJ content through a library service, but nowhere near as readily as looking for what has been in the NYT or WaPo recently?)
9.4.2008 12:38pm
TCO:
WSJ is not like NYT or WaPo. You have to pay for a web subscription. They do have some online stuff. But not much. They do it this way on purpose and for a while and very candidly.
9.4.2008 12:47pm
Hoosier:
What suffers most may be international news, which many "soignificant" papers--ChiTrib, LATimes--Have cut back on drastically. Now we have AP or Reuters reports, whereas when I was in Chicago in the 1980s, one could still read Trib-reported international news.

The problem is one of resources: News sites don't have the ability to station reporters overseas the way an old fashioned paper used to do.

The question raised above--are people largely substituting readinagpaper online for reading a hard copy--is interesting here. I suspect that if so, this is actually helping to drive papaers to cut space devoted to froeign coverage, even in the form of wire reports. If I now have access to the Washington Post's international section, why would I turn to the Clevland Plain Dealer of the Indianapolis Star for that coverage?
9.4.2008 1:12pm
Angus:
I think that is a huge oversight for the paper. I still read newspapers regularly, I just do it online. Every morning I read my local newspaper online -- the online version has all the content for free, and my city is only about 30,000, so we're not talking the Times or Post here.
9.4.2008 1:12pm
TCO:
1. I think that there remain things about a newspaper that are attractive in terms of ease of reading, total amount of content, portability to coffee shop, etc. As well as lots of cool content, that no one has time to read. Of course, the web experience has advantages of it's own, hyperlinks, etc.

2. I think a lot of the displacement of papers by internet is not one for one. I mean who actually READS an online paper the way they scan through a written one? In some ways, internet is more like TV in that it is a different medium/experience altogether. Just one media growing and the older one shrinking/dying. And the big thing about the internet is the interactivity of it...the community games. Trolling, chat, having an online persona all that stuff is profoundly different online than reading a dead tree paper.

P.s. I knew all this back in 1998 because I had read Wolfe's BURN RATE
9.4.2008 4:10pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Seems reasonable to me that both the television news--which often says, "for more information, visit our website" and the print guys can introduce a subject with as much space as broadcast time or print inches are justified and then have, in the limitless reaches of their servers, the rest of the news on that subject; ten times as much if necessary.
Then they need to figure out a way to sell it to the subscriber. But they both have a new opportunity to go into subjects in far more depth than previously and they don't have to wait for the weekly newsmags to find the space. Should be saleable.
9.4.2008 5:18pm
Hoosier:
Richard--The question I have is why the saleable part shouldn't be online adds, if people really are shifting to reading the papers under both species, as a Catholic might put it.

My favorite Gemran newspaper went to subscription-only online for about a year some time ago. They found themselves getting skunked on add revenues, and now they are open access once again.

But there is real competition among quality dailies in German, with no clear equivalent to the NYT. Here, we have the Times and Post as national dailies. (WSJ requires a subscription, of course, so isn't relevant to this question.) Is that the problem in the US?
9.4.2008 5:57pm
Hoosier:
Um. "ads"
9.4.2008 6:21pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Hoosier. Yeah. Since ad revenue is such a big part of the budget anyway. Not like some bloggers aren't earning the extra beer out of it.
I had forgotten about that, despite my annoyance at having to click my way around the abominations. I can move my eyes from one spot in the paper to another faster than I can move a mouse.
On the other hand, no paper, no ink, no delivery.
And it will provide the desperately needed space for, as an example, the Free Press to squeeze in "D" after Kilpatrick's name in the recent unpleasantness.
9.4.2008 9:20pm
Hoosier:
Richard: So Detroit has a newspaper? When did that start?
9.5.2008 11:20am
TCO:
Hoozhe:

I thought the Frankfurter Algemeine was the only decent one. What are the other good German papers?
9.5.2008 8:28pm