If—or, according to Dawson, when—The New York Times stops printing newspapers, it will be able to eliminate an incredible amount in overhead costs: no more paper, no more ink, no more delivery trucks, no more production staff. Yet even a streamlined, paperless New York Times will have operating costs that are simply unsustainable. In particular, it’s difficult to envision how the organization—which had 1,332 newsroom employees alone in 2008—will ever be able to operate on a shoestring staff of 200.
And HuffPo is only the tip of the iceberg of competition. National newspapers once dominant in niche areas no longer enjoy monopolies. For example, Politico’s coverage has forced The Washington Post to fight for its once faithful political audience. In-depth investigative reporting is increasingly being performed by nonprofit organizations.
Even regional dailies’ classic areas of coverage are in jeopardy. ESPN.com, for instance, has launched a series of Web sites providing localized coverage in regional sports markets.
A lot can happen in the next seven years. New technologies could present entirely new challenges to newspapers and their upstart competitors. Creative solutions could emerge. But today it seems unrealistic to expect that newspaper organizations will be able find a profitable business model to support the type of dramatic transformation that is necessary to compete.
The newspaper business model appears financially unsustainable, both in its current form and any conceivable future variation. From a business perspective, 2017 may be too generous a prediction.
Jeff Mascott is managing director of Adfero Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.