US newspapers: Not many positives from Poynter

Yesterday, we took a pop at The Economist for only managing digital revenue growth of 15% YOY. Maybe we need to rethink that criticism. Here, according to the US publication Media Post, is what’s been going on across the pond in terms of digital revenue growth:

Gannett (excluding USA Today): 7.5% (vs. 21 in Q3 2006)
Tribune: 9% (vs. 28% a year earlier)
McClatchy: 1.4% (vs. 16.3%)
Dow Jones: 8% (vs. 13%)
E.W. Scripps: 19% (vs. 40%)

Certainly, this backdrop makes The Economist look like a bull out of the gate. It’s little short of disastrous. Rick Edmonds, a media analyst at The Poynter Institute, says he is hearing “three main scenarios” for renewed online growth. Here they are:

1) The Yahoo-newspaper partnership

The architects of this deal are “promising that the real action will kick in mid-2008 when technology is in place to allow Yahoo to sell national ads on a common platform in any combination of the member papers”.

2) Improvements in search and video

This involves launching new hyper-local sites that “have some content, user reviews, but are basically about shopping with no news”.

3) Rapid, cheap, innovation

“Target audiences and then use trial and error to make quick and cheap products that meet the needs of that audience.”

Most of this sounds fairly desperate. Only one of the three “scenarios” is substantive in revenue terms. For the US newspaper industry to be pinning its hopes of renewed online growth on a partnership with Yahoo. . . is, well, ironic, to say the least.

Elsewhere, Edmonds supplements these thoughts with the idea that US newspapers may start to kill their print editions “early next decade”.

At Business Week, Jon Fine forecasts that at least one major US newspaper will drop its “historically thin” Saturday edition during 2008.

PS: At Digital Deliverance, Vin Crosbie suggests that mid-sized US newspapers are losing a Battle of the Bulge in traffic terms.

In other words, the sites of “national” papers are prospering on the back of demand for national news, which they do well. And small, local, papers are still growing the audience for hyper-local news.

The mid-sized market is a wasteland, it seems. This may well have something to do with the anaemic digital growth rates cited at the top of this post.

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