Yes, Newspapers are Doomed-Becker
The number of general-purpose newspapers has been declining in cities ever since the growth of television, and the decline accelerated after the Internet was developed. The trend downward will continue, and perhaps even accelerate. I do not see much of a future for the general-purpose hard copy newspaper that combines opinions, sports, advertisements, comics, and information.
A telling fact is that young people today do not read general newspapers, whereas they did in the past. When I was a boy my father bought at least five newspapers every day, and I "read" (that is, looked mainly at sports and comics) three or four of them. It is now rare to see anyone under age 30 reading the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, or any other major newspaper. A teacher used to be bothered when bored students starting reading newspapers in class. That is no longer a problem since they now turn to their computers and play video games or email friends.
I find it hard to reconcile the rapid decline in the number of newspapers with Posner's data suggesting that newspapers are quite profitable. Declining industries, such as the American automobile industry, have always been associated not with profits but with substantial losses, as is happening to Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. There is no doubt that the many newspapers which went out of business did so because they were losing money. Of course, the surviving newspapers tend to be the ones that are more profitable, but they too are experiencing financial problems. They are cutting staffs, long-term owners are selling their papers to others- as with the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune- and they are trying various approaches to deal with the tough competition from online advertisements and other online services.
The Internet has gravely wounded the newspaper industry because it provides information, opinion, and entertainment more frequently and effectively than newspapers do. The Web offers as much sports news as desired, and presents the progress of baseball and other sporting in real time. The weather is updated every hour, or more frequently, and so are stock market quotes. Online ads give pictures and personal information about individuals looking for jobs, and prices and other characteristics of products offered for sale. Major as well as minor news stories, local and general news, and opinions on numerous issues are continually being presented.
A case still made for good newspapers and magazines is that they separate facts from opinions, and do enough checking to stand behind the materials presented as facts. I do not know of anything comparable on the Internet, although the reputations of better-known bloggers do rise and fall with changing perceptions about their insights and accuracy. Yet it is not apparent that the demand is very strong for this dimension of what newspapers have traditionally provided.
Newspapers are trying to strengthen their survival prospects by expanding online presentations, and combining these with print editions. In the short run this may help them, which explains why all the major newspapers are moving aggressively to expand online materials, and widen their online customer base. However, I do not believe this approach will succeed in the long run. The reason is that the way newspapers bundle different services is not the right approach to online presentations that usually provide information about the weather on websites that are different from those used to discuss sports or present ads for cars. Some online sites specialize in opinions about domestic politics, others discuss religion, some present pornographic pictures and films, while others focus on economic issues. The traditional newspaper does not readily fit into this format, and so they are generally losing money in their online efforts.
This does not imply that online presentations in the future will continue to be organized in the same way as at present. Perhaps the growing tendency for some websites to link to other sites will coalesce into organized multi-site presentations that deal with many different topics. Already some subscriber-based sites collect and present the best blogs on different topics. How that will evolve is not clear to me, but it is unlikely to develop into anything that looks like the conventional newspaper that has bundled news, information, and advertisements for hundreds of years.
The rapid and continuing decline in the number of major newspapers will be regretted mainly by older persons who are accustomed to reading several newspapers daily-my wife and I still subscribe to four and read others online. However, by voting with how they use their time, the great majority of consumers clearly have shown that they prefer to get their information, entertainment, and opinions from television, and especially from the Internet, than from newspapers.