Today's Vision of Tomorrow: Circulation Stats, News Corp. Say Bits Replace Ink for Newsprint

Remember back in olden days when a story would break and the chief at the local daily would yell, "Stop the presses!" Well, they've finally stopped. And in the future, most of our newspaper content will be delivered via digital tech. Here are the stories today that point the way:

Newspaper Circulation Lower Than You Think

digital newsprint

Some of the information that supports the notion that newspaper readers are abandoning their paper-and-ink copies comes from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a body that keeps track of certain newspaper circulation numbers. Ironically, they're showing increases in circulation, but as a piece over at BusinessWeek has just highlighted, it's the result of new accounting procedures that could be masking a drop-off in newspaper sales that's worse than you might think.

In April the ABC changed its rules on how publications can count digital versus physical subscriptions--beforehand newspapers could only count each subscriber once--but from April dual-package subscribers can be counted twice. The upshot, of course, is that newspapers can report in the new statistics format and mask any underlying fall-off in print subscriber figures. There's a second tweak that might also be inflating the figures too: Before April only digital subscriptions that cost at least 25% of the physical paper's charges were counted, and after April even subscriptions that cost a penny count.

How's this affected the figures? Overall, the circulation among the 379 papers the ABC tracks has slipped 10% on the previous year, even allowing for the double-dip counting. Though the slipping economy has affected this, it's still extremely bad news for the newspaper industry. But looking at the physical/digital subscriber split it's clear that the swing is toward digital versions: The Wall Street Journal for example noted a 14% gain to 407,000 digital subscribers, and The New York Times (which reported the first sub 1-million subscriber count in decades) showed a 120% growth in digital subscribers up to 53,000. These figures are, of course, affected by the ABC's rule changes, but you can easily argue they're significant enough a swing to overcome the double-counting effect, and thus are a good indicator that digital is the future for newsprint.

Bing's Hard Cash to Persuade News Corp to Delist From Google

google bing

The hot rumor of the day is that Microsoft is in negotiations with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to persuade the publisher to withdraw its content from Google, and go with Bing search engine exclusivity. It ties in with Murdoch's seeming hatred of Google and its alleged news content-stealing behavior as a news aggregator--and it would provide News Corp. with an elegant way out of the strange position it's currently in where it complains about Google but lets the engine's robots into the sites to sniff the news for listing.

Google, you could argue, could easily do without The Wall Street Journal and its like, since there's plenty of news content available elsewhere. And the WSJ could easily do without Google--it's a big enough name that it generates its own traffic, and snipping the Google link wouldn't snip the other news aggregator/cross-linked articles on other news Web sites. But if Microsoft succeeds in persuading Murdoch into Bing exclusivity, it could set a serious precedent: Many other newspapers and magazines could follow suit, attracted by the promise of regular cash payments in these chilly economic times.

And while that could radically re-structure part of the search engine business, it could also have a subtle overall effect: It would highlight digital distribution channels in newspaper's business models. As more and more of the newspaper's revenue comes from digital sales, and the papers work with MS or Google (assuming they sign exclusivity deals with each one) to push their content online, it reinforces the notion that physical newsprint is dying. Now that's a lot of "maybes," but with the ABC's statistics showing declining subscribers overall, and a swing towards digital content, it's exactly the sort of thing that you might see happening.

Wired's Tablet Format Previewed

Last week we heard that Wired's publisher Condé Nast was hugely excited about the prospect of going digital with Apple's iTablet as a vehicle for improving its sales. And it seems that Condé is in fact so very keen that it's already mocked-up a working demonstration of how the all-digital magazine would look (warning--turn your sound down before playing:

The most fascinating thing about this isn't Condé Nast's enthusiasm--it's that the iTablet is, to all intents and purposes, still a myth. There's not one shred of hard evidence from Apple it's real. And yet there's an iTablet-ish Wired already in the works. That either indicated Condé's desperate need for attention, a quiet confidence that other tablet-format PCs will serve the same purpose, or it could be spun into a new rumor that supports the existence of the iTablet.

Whichever way you think about it, there's one definite conclusion to be drawn from this: The publishing industry itself is swinging around to thinking about an all-digital future. Even Esquire's half-assed attempts at new media/digital integration support this notion.

[Via BusinessWeek, MacRumors, Financial Times, Paid Content]

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