Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who (doesn't) need Newspapers?

I was going to write this as a comment on Justin's post, but as my ideas came together and the words started flowing, I figured I would generate a separate post. I wonder what Dennis Mahoney would say about this ;-)

Who needs (hard-copy) Newspapers?

I don't.

When I've got a computer handy, I can navigate to, whose iGoogle home page/news aggregator displays all my favorite RSS feeds.

On-the-go, I can whip out my Palm Treo 700p and navigate to feedm8, a handy mobile feed aggregator that gives me access to the same content, simply in a more accessible format. As long as I have cell coverage, I am good. But this requires paying for an unlimited data plan on my phone, which can be expensive.

But what about people who aren't Internet-savvy? How about those who don't have fancy smartphones that can display newsfeeds, or can't afford a cell phone plan that supports data? Or what if a person wants to simply sit outside in bright sunlight and read w/out squinting (many computer and smartphone screens are somewhat unreadable in bright sunlight).

For those people, a paper newspaper is still probably the only viable option for getting news on-the-go, or even at home. Many people in this country and around the world still don't even own a computer, or don't have reliable Internet access.

I would argue that until there exists a device that is completely portable, has a large screen that is easily readable (and functions well in direct sunlight), has a very good battery life, and has ubiquitous access to Internet newsfeeds wirelessly from anywhere, and the cost of such a device and the wireless service are close to negligible, will paper newspapers be obsoleted. Also, most of the population would need to have one of these devices, and know how to use it.

I believe that Amazon's Kindle product ( is a great evolutionary step. Its screen is beautiful (and works great in the sun), its battery life is impressive and it's ability to access the Internet at broadband speeds from anywhere in the US (that can pick up a Sprint cell phone tower) w/out requiring a wireless data subscription is key. But, due to the nature of the device, Amazon had to lock things down so that it can only browse to a limited set of web sites, including (to download eBooks and purchase things) and Wikipedia. Also, it costs $399. Many people can't afford that. And it only works in the US (so far) But it does offer instant access to many newspapers and blogs. From the Kindle home page:
  • Top U.S. newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post; top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes—all auto-delivered wirelessly.
  • Top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland; Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and The Irish Times—all auto-delivered wirelessly.
  • More than 250 top blogs from the worlds of business, technology, sports, entertainment, and politics, including BoingBoing, Slashdot, TechCrunch, ESPN's Bill Simmons, The Onion, Michelle Malkin, and The Huffington Post—all updated wirelessly throughout the day.
So, it seems we are approaching the age of the obsolescence of newspapers. But we aren't quite there yet. For those with enough disposable income and enough tech-savvy to afford or use a smartphone or Kindle, newspapers may be obsolete. But for everyone else, paper is cheap and still works as well as it always did for conveying information.


Harry Chen said...

I share similar changes in reading behavior (see scritic's post). Currently, I don't subscribe to any daily newspapers, but I do subscribe to few weekly magazines that come with long essays and news analysis.

I don't think newspaper will go away anytime soon. First, the world is not as wired as you may think. Second, it's still relative expensive to read news using digital devices like iPhone and BlackBerry. I won't pay $60+/mo just to be able read news on a wireless device. Third, battery life and screen size impose problems for many people. Finally, in certain situations, holding a gadget is simply less 'classy' than holding an intellectual newspaper like the Financial Times or The Economist.

Tim Finin said...

If the trends continue and newspaper sell fewer copies and continue to loose other markets (e.g., classified ads) to the web, who will produce the content we all enjoy reading on the Web? Journalism is a skilled profession and a typical newspaper reporter works hard to research and write just a few stories a week, drawing on considerable experience, both in writing and in their 'beat'. Their work can not be easily replaced by bloggers and citizen journalists.

there is a real danger that if we all expect to get good news and analysis for free, the quality will consequently go down.