But more intriguingly, Langeveld raises the possibility that newspapers have been fluffing their books to make their online divisions look better:
Or, dare I say it, is it possible that newspapers assigning, by accounting maneuvers, a disproportionate share of their revenue to their online divisions, for example when they arbitrarily assign to online a percentage of the revenue in combination print/web ad packages, or credit a revenue share to online revenue in instances where advertisers are merely bonused online exposure as added value to a print buy?
There’s a lot of wiggle room in accounting.
The bigger issue here is that we too often forget that newspapers are still a massive and profitable industry. Most of the blog commentary on the state and fate of the newspaper business comes from early adopters, tech enthusiasts—people who know their way around an RSS feed and who have a few dozen links on their blogrolls.
But I think we tend to forget that these (and I’m one of them) are extreme news consumers, far from the norm. Most people don’t use news like the top 1 or 2 percent do. I suspect they like to have an authoritative source they can go to that will keep them up on the world.
After all, forty million people a day already pay for an inferior product in the printed form. And charging online will slow circulation declines as the value equation changes from “I’m an idiot to pay hundreds of dollars a year for something that’s free elsewhere” to “I won’t get my newspaper unless I pay.”
And anybody who wants to leak me some real numbers so we don’t have to keep using these rough estimates, feel free!