Earlier today, Google chief economist Hal Varian gave a presentation to an FTC workshop on the changing economics of the newspaper industry. We all know that newspaper ad revenues have been falling off a cliff for years. Many media companies blame Google and are trying to put the genie back in the bottle with partial metered models for online news.
Google is understandably on the defensive, trotting out Varian to paint an unemotional picture with as much data as he can muster. But the picture he paints is a dour one for print media. For instance, the chart above shows the decline of overall newspaper ad revenues. Newspapers have taken huge hits in classifieds advertising (in blue) and national brand advertising (in red). The online portion (green) is still too small to make much of a difference.
The collapse in print ad revenues is coming from two places: the overall ad recession of the past couple years and the shift to online news consumption. Here are some telling stats from Varian’s presentation, which is also embedded below:
Varian concludes: “Newspapers could save a lot of money if the primary access to news was via the internet.” It sounds like he agrees with Netscape founder and investor Marc Andreessen, who recommends that newspapers “burn the boats” carrying their dying print businesses.
“The fact of the matter is that newspapers have never made much money from news,” says Varian. They make money from “special interest sections on topics such as Automotive, Travel, Home & Garden, Food & Drink,, and so on.” The problem is that on the Web, other niche sites which cater to those categories are a click away, leaving the newspapers with sections which are harder to sell ads against, such as sports, news, and local.
So what are they supposed to do? He doesn’t really have a good answer, but ignoring the realities of consumer shifts in reading behavior and news consumption is not it.
Hal R. Varian is Chief Economist at Google. He is also Class of 1944 Professor at the School of Information (iSchool), the Haas School of Business, and the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1995-2002, he served as the founding dean of SIMS. Professor Varian is a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation, the Econometric Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as Co-Editor of the American Economic Review and is on...