The Observer notes that Rupert Murdoch is planning a NY Times killer, with a “New York” edition of the Wall Street Journal. Planning on spending $15 and using the services of the former New York Sun editor, John Seeley, the paper will compete directly with the New York Times. Money quote:
“You could drive a truck through the space between the wonderfully titillating tabloids and the perceived self-seriousness of The Times,” said Stefan Friedman, a public-relations specialist at KnickerbockerSKD. “There is a need and a want.
“With the elimination of the metro section, space in The Times is extremely competitive,” he continued. “There are maybe eight stories in the metro section each day. Take away breaking news and you’re down to half that. That’s where you can reach lawmakers, and with the area being so crowded, [The Journal has] a real opportunity from the PR side.”
With the submission of two links from “the Awl” by a reader (who I will keep anonymous unless he/she wishes otherwise), I wonder if the LA Times is next?
The first link shows the LAT circulation as an “absolute horror show.” The second link shows how badly magazines have declined both in advertising pages and circulation. The Financial Times also has a story citing figures of 383 magazines closing this year. As the accompanying picture from the print version (sorry, unlike the WSJ the FT does not provide graphics with their stories that appear in the print version) shows, revenues are down for each sector of advertising and for each forecasted year, though it would appear that forecasts call for digital to be up a bit, but not enough to cover the declines in overall revenue. The year 2007 had nearly $15 billion in revenue, compared to forecasts for 2010 of closer to $10 billion.
It is clear that the advertising market will not bail out the LA Times anytime soon. So will Murdoch make a move?
It would be consistent with what he knows: newspapers. The WSJ is printed locally in the LA basin. It can easily compete with the LA Times because the LAT has a terrible, politically correct paper that neglects local stories (Mayor Tony’s affairs with developers, businesswomen, and reporters, the local ACORN scandals, the scandal involving Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Obama tape of his attendance at the Rashid Khalidi dinner, and more). The LAT does not even bother to cover Hollywood, much less the basic economics of the DVD and TV sales that drive studio profitability. Readers of the LA Times would be astonished to discover that Redbox and piracy threaten the studio business model.
Can Murdoch make an LA Times killer? Yes, easily. The lack of competition, and the potential readers, even with the economy in the dumps and White flight (Mexican origin people read mostly Spanish language newspapers if they read them at all), make this business case fairly positive. There are millions of readers not served by a newspaper rivaling the NY Metro area in size and wealth. Despite the negatives of print, the sheer ease of use of a newspaper, particularly with the breakfast table, or various waiting areas, or so on, make it valuable and desirable. The WSJ alone (see the link above) has done fairly well in making itself a “national” newspaper. Newspapers can be read in almost any situation, and often have handy information, such as sports schedules for local teams on TV and radio, and other things that add value. [One of my pet peeves about the LA Times is the lack of daily radio listings, including station name, format, and frequency, that the LAT used to print but dumped along with stock tables in the 1990’s. In LA’s fast-changing radio line-up, you’d think this would be a no-brainer, but the Times instead challenges readers to simply surf the frequencies themselves. The little things that add value to the paper went years ago.]
The only question is people. Can Murdoch find the people to create a local, LA version of the WSJ? The NY Sun provided the template and the people for the NY version, and Murdoch has shown he can take a decade of losses (Fox Broadcasting cost around $1 billion in net losses from start-up in 1986 through 1996 in operational losses, yearly) for a property that can make money long-term. But as his MySpace debacle shows, getting the right people to run it can be an issue. [Murdoch bought MySpace for about $580 million or so, and it quickly lost buzz and users to Facebook, which now outnumbers it by 350 million users to about 100 million users.] Unlike NY, there are few people in and around LA used to running a newspaper who can provide something different than the failed, two decade long decline of the LAT.
I am skeptical of the idea that a news-reader as outlined in the Financial Times article will be competitive with the price and ease of use of a newspaper any time soon. Lighting, battery, costs of the device, ruggedness, and so on are all issues, as is paying something like ~$200 or so for a reader and then daily fees for a e-version of the newspaper or magazine. Particularly in this economy. The potential profits of a LA version of the WSJ must be tempting to Murdoch and News Corp.
But there is the question of who will run it? Local bloggers like Mayor Sam’s Sister City, or Luke Ford, do excellent reporting, but managing a newspaper with hundreds of employees, and hard print deadlines, is another matter, particularly balancing that with middle class tastes. The latter is probably more prevalent in bloggers than the market-failure newspaper management, but getting a paper out on time and on budget with quality is pretty rare and requires experience. As always, it comes down to people.
The true tragedy of newspapers is that collectively, they have almost no one who has both the skills needed to manage the production of a newspaper with the middle class tone of the content. Call this one of the many casualties of the “SWPL”-ification of the elites. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the New York Times Holiday Gift Guide for People of Color. Yes. It really exists.
Somali fashion, do-it-yourself henna kits, children’s books that draw inspiration from the lives of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor: it’s not hard to find gifts created for and by people of color this holiday season. Here are some possibilities.
The sad thing is, this could have easily run in the LAT. Without importing ex-NY Sun editors, who will run a LA version of the WSJ?