Buffett: Hard Times Ahead for Papers

Investment guru Warren Buffett predicted hard times for the newspaper industry Sunday, a day after holding his company’s annual shareholder’s meeting.

The Internet is scooping newspapers — not only on news, but in cheap accessibility, said Buffett, chairman of one of Wall Street’s top success stories, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The company owns The Buffalo News, a daily newspaper in Buffalo, N.Y.

While Buffett still reads newspapers, he more often finds himself turning to his computer for news these days, he said, and suspects others do, too.

Often he can get the New York Times’ or The Boston Globe’s morning newspaper stories the night before on the newspapers’ Web sites — for free, he said.

“That cannot be a good thing for newspapers,” Buffett said. “It’s not a good idea to be charging a lot of money for something you can get for free.”

More dire than subscription costs for print newspapers is the Internet’s siphoning of advertising dollars, said Buffett and Charlie Munger, Buffett’s investment partner and vice president of Berkshire.

“The idea that chopping down trees, running them through million-dollar presses … is going to be competitive with some little click on a computer” is nonsense, Buffett said.

While Internet news is largely dominated by newspapers, there is no guarantee that newspapers will be able to corner that market, Munger said.

“They are sure they can dominate that,” he said. “I am by no means sure.”

Even as Buffett touted the efficiency of the Internet, he held firm to his stance that he cannot invest in the technology stocks that blossomed from it.

“It’s a great spectator sport for me. I just don’t want to bet on the game,” Buffett said.

Buffett is known for investing only in companies he understands. Berkshire’s holdings include such brand name companies as Coca-Cola, Gillette, Dairy Queen and Benjamin Moore paints.

The future of Internet companies eludes him, Buffett said.

“I just don’t know who’s going to make the money in it,” he said.

Neither does most of Wall Street, if last year’s plummet of tech stocks is any indication.

Buffett was roundly criticized by some Berkshire investors at last year’s meeting for refusing to invest in tech stocks.

Many returned this weekend to thank him.

“Tech stocks … they’re not so good,” said 14-year-old shareholder Jason Meyer of Madison, Neb.

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