industry news

Confusing memorabilia with news value

Lots of discussion (like here and here) today about this news – apparently several major newspapers sold out of their Wednesday print editions as people bought keepsakes of the historic election results.

Some people seem to think this is really good news for newspapers, and shows that people really want that print edition after all. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s a wrong-headed reaction, confusing the desire for a memento with the desire for news.

Because everyone who bought those papers yesterday morning already knew who won thanks to electronic media (including online news sites). They weren’t buying news, they were buying a keepsake. And last I checked, the name is newspaper, not keepsakepaper. If the real “value” of a newspaper is as a memento, then that says something journalists probably don’t want to hear.

What happened with print editions yesterday was unique because the circumstances were unique. If the Chicago Cubs (ever) win the World Series, you’ll likely see a similar run on the Chicago papers. It doesn’t mean they’re going to see a growth spurt in subscriptions.

Steve Byers at Marquette Student Media asks the right question:

So the question for the newspaper industry is: How do you translate that demand for the permanence of print we saw yesterday into continuing sales. Even more, how do you convince advertisers that this is the way to go? I don’t have the answer.

I suspect the answer to that question is: you don’t. The trend in getting news from online sources is not going to be reversed. Period.