"We are getting the best stories we've ever published, " a tabloid newspaper editor said to me last week, "but nobody's buying the bloody newspaper!"
He had a point: since last Friday, some truly juicy tabloid stories have hit the newsstands
There was the release of country singer Mindy McCready's sex tape (see it here); the photo of Jesse James in a German army offcier's hat giving a nazi salute (you can see that here); Ricky Martin's gay confession (read it here) and Gerard Butler's Jennifer Aniston ass grab picture (it's here). Oh and I almost forget to mention Peaches Geldof's sex-and-heroin scandal (see the pics here).
That is just the last seven days. Whatever you think of the tabloid press, these stories are the kind of revelations that shift serious amounts of copies.
But my editor friend remained frustrated.
The reason? The web has eaten his lunch and nothing on the table right now suggests he'll be getting it back. Apple's iTablet hit the stores this week too, but even the journalists writing stories about it don't believe a bigger screen is going to save the newspaper industry. Rupert Murdoch's plan to put his titles behind a paywall was described by one journalist acquaintance of mine as "standing in the way of history." Certainly, asking your most loyal readers to pay extra doesn't seem a winning strategy. As for modish concepts such as citizen journalism, that's about as attractive an idea as citizen dentistry.
My feeling is that the business model for newspapers will be no business model at all. Like the airline industry, newspapers won't make a profit. But that won't mean they'll die out.
We need to know what's going on, like we need to fly to foreign countries, so whatever happens someone will provide that information, just as there will always be passenger aircraft.
Last week, loss-making UK newspapers The Independent and Independent On Sunday were bought for $1.50 by Russian billionaire (and former KGB man) Alexander Lebedev, who already owns the London Evening Standard.
Lebedv said: "I do not treat newspapers as business. I treat them as my responsibility."
The Independent certainly isn't a business. Things are so bad at the newspaper the company that owns it paid Lebedev over $12 million to take it off their hands. Why? It would cost more than double that to close it.
Lebedev's strategy is to take the web on at its own game and give the paper away for free. It's a strategy that will cost him around $50 million a year.
But I suspect he knows newspapers will never make money -- some of them never did -- but there will always be a place for the fourth estate..
And wealthy men will always want to own newspapers, for the respectability they offer, the egos they massage and for the access they grant.
Newspapers are the ultimate rich man's toy. They always have been.
What do you think?
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