June 19, 2015

Newspapers are dying because nobody's paying online

That "nobody's paying online" is the key takeaway from a big new survey by Reuters, summarized in this very good article from Columbia Journalism Review.

By "nobody's paying," what do I mean?

The survey showed that 47 percent of American Internet users "regularly" use ad blockers. It's 55 percent among the youngest age cohort. And, though I've not seen breakouts correlated to Net usage, I bet more people who are online more often use ad blockers more.

The other big number was 11 percent. That's the amount of Americans who cough up money for paywalled news.

I'm in the 47 percent; I'm not in the 11 percent. For most proprietary news sites that have paywalls, I can work around them. If you're the likes of the Wall Street Journal, I just don't pay.

I've gotten into a dispute with another commenter at a baseball blog about related things.

He's misinformed enough to think that pageviews matter, ad blocking aside, or not aside.

No, they don't. More and more digital media representatives, and advertisers, recognize that page engagement, not numbers of pages viewed, is the key metric. But, that's as much a quality metric as a quantity one, and it's tougher to measure even as a quantity, because,if I have 25 tabs open, how do you tell which one I'm actively engaged with?

Meanwhile, back to the main story. As smartphone use grows, the ad problem does, too. Because, of course, you can't get anything but a small ad on a smartphone. As for paywalls? Beyond what I said about leaky paywalls, paywalling just e-editions don't count. Among other things, I can still read top stories on HTML links. And, smaller daily papers still aren't doing tablet versions of e-editions, and are you going to try to read an 11x21.5 PDF on a smartphone? (And, ad-blocking apps or extensions are headed to smartphones, too.)

As for amounts? The majority of that 11 percent pay $10/month or less. Most who don't pay wouldn't pay more than that; many wouldn't even pay that amount. And, since smartphones in general seem to reduce that page engagement metric, that will probably drop other things, too.

And, that's not all. The shift to "platforms" like Facebook will likely ding the media, too.

These trends don't just affect traditional newspapers, CJR notes. PuffHoes, BuzzedFeed and others face the same issues. Maybe worse. Yes, they don't have the overhead costs of legacy newspapers. But, many legacy papers, albeit by brutal cost cutting, are still profitable in print, and decently so. And, if one bets on the wrong digital platform (i.e., what if WhatsApp makes Facebook into MySpace?) then there's another oops.

On the flip side, while the AP says this could free up money for more news reporting, automated bot-reporting's probable spread to weather stories and more will rather be seen as a way of plugging revenue holes.

As for me? I've "learned" to get news free online and not pay for it.

I use AdBlock Plus.

I use Ghostery to block tracking cookies, so that ads that do get past AdBlock Plus are less "personalized." They will thus be less appealing to me.

I use other extensions to flag advertorial that gets past AdBlock Plus.

I try to remember to use Ixquick or DuckDuckGo, so that Google can't take my search information and personalize ads off that.

I use HTTPS Everywhere for both general security and to otherwise play bits of whack-a-mole on tracking.

This is the basic suite of online privacy extensions and add-ons that cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier recommends to protect against business surveillance.

I haven't even mentioned doing a massive upgrade to one's hosts file, which essentially blocks whole websites, including major online ad creators or hosts, from ever loading in the first place.

This all said, people who have schadenfreude over "the death of newspapers" should note what I said above. This is something that's going to more and more hit online media in general.

That includes web advertising salespeople, or apparent ones, who are making false sales pitches or ideas pitches, whichever.

And, the schadenfreude is also related to the Wild West libertarianism of today's Net 2.0, including many who have made the most money off that.

No comments: