Dispatches: Is print dead?

Video killed the Radio Star, and just as surely the Internet is killing the tradition of Weetbix, toast and the daily terrorPrint is dead. By which I mean specifically that the daily newspapers that we grew up with are rapidly rotting away. Such are the corrosive powers of new technology.

Good bye, good luck good riddance.

The corpse is cold and the body is in the casket. The lid is screwed down tight, the box in the ground. The coffin is covered in dirt and the headstone is carved and planted. It's just that some people, most of them powerful old-timers in a dying trade, are having difficulty coping with the loss. Confronting grief -- try denial.

Not that Rupert Murdoch and whoever runs Fairfax this week care too much, sentiment has never been a strong point among newspaper men.

That is why Fairfax is rushing into online auctions as fast as it can, and why Rupert recently bought up minor equity stakes across a range of Internet companies.

Try this simple exercise.

Think about the last daily paper you read, The Australian, The Age, The Telegraph. Think about the amount of paper, the buckets of ink, cost of the buying and maintaining the trucks that deliver the dead trees to the newsagents.

Now, point your browser to http://www.smh.com.au and tell me why you would ever spend a dollar on information you can now get sitting at your desktop for free.

Obviously, the answer has a lot to do with the Cappuccino principle.

Newspapers are a comfortable medium and something we are all familiar with. Sitting hunched over the cornflakes, reading Column 8 and pretending the work day is something beyond the front door, on the other side of the grey clouds and ugly winter rain.

Saturday morning inflates this principle by an order of magnitude. Eight different sections, literally forests of content in the comfort of your own home. Even if you don't read a fraction of it, at least you get to pay for the lot.

And what a bargain at a buck seventy.

Ah but there's the rub. The question you really have to consider is what happens when the fundamental business case underpinning a metropolitan daily newpaper -- classified advertising, like the lady, vanishes.

This appears to be the trend out of Silicon Valley right now, and where California goes, so the rest of the Western world soon follows.

What is the point of diminishing returns for a paper driven by news-stand sales or subscriptions.

Will you as a consumer pay $5 a day for your copy of the Courier Mail? How about $8 dollars a day for the Herald Sun? Visit http://www.theage.com.au and read the latest Melbourne news for free. Would you pay $10 bucks a pop for this stuff.

A classic double bind is unfolding. High income and middle income earners who might conceivably fork out fifty bucks a week for a newspaper are also the most Internet savvy and Web enabled customers. Meanwhile, out in the wild Westie burbs of Sydney and Melbourne those with the least access to the Web are also the most unlikely to cop the higher prices.

You have got to love the Internet.

Andrew Birmingham is the Chief Operating Officer of IDG Communications.andrew_birmingham@idg.com.au

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