New Jersey’s future hangs in the balance

New Jersey’s future hangs in the balance as a controversial experiment looms, and no I’m not talking about the new Christie Administration or the federal health care bill. I’m talking about New Jersey journalism, which has faces the collapse of newspapers. We’re uniquely dependent on our newspapers, because our TV and radio stations are based in other states and frankly don’t care about us at all.

As everyone should know, the newspaper business is really an advertising business, and the economic collapse, competition from online ads, and the loss of readers to the internet have crushed the poorly run, debt-ridden publishers. Your subscriptions to the newspapers (if you still have one) really pay for the physical printing of the paper, it’s the ads that bring in the money. Blogger Newsosaur recently posted an  analysis of how long papers can continue printing and there are scenarios where the death of physical papers is only a decade away. Even an internet triumpalist like me has to worry who will report on New Jersey news when very few people if any can make a living at it.

We’ve discussed before that newspaper publishers had a big meeting last year where they plotted to charge their internet readers. You’ve probably noticed, though, that no one followed through in our area. That’s changing soon as the New York Times says it will begin charging in 2011:

Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.

We’ll see what happens. If you think this is obviously a good decision, I direct you to this study of how it’s worked out elsewhere:

A puny 2.4% of print subscribers is the average number of people paying for online content at the handful of daily newspapers that have been bold enough to erect pay walls, according to a new survey.

If you lose more in web advertising than you gain in subscriptions, it’s hard to see what publishers have gained. But the sad reality is that web ads don’t bring in enough to run newspapers as we have known them. New Jersey needs someone to solve the problem, so I’ll be watching the Times experiment with great interest.

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