That is the question we are all asking. Since 1997, my money and efforts have focused on a vision where the answer to this question is "Yes, newspapers as we know them today will die."
When I searched “newspapers, die, death” on Google, I found thousands of articles, including some going back to 1995 , a Newspaper Death Watch website, a link to the The New Yorker, and an interview with Warren Buffet.
While these links are referencing national, regional and metro dailies, the question is equally important for those newspapers serving hyper-local markets, markets of 20,000 to 30,000 people in urban neighborhoods, suburban villages and ex-urban towns.
In these small markets, I've concluded that the daily newspaper will die. Not tomorrow, but sooner rather than later. However, the news organizations publishing these hyper-local daily papers do not have to die. A collection of non-daily publications along with related online offerings can sustain them.
And these printed-on-paper, non-daily publications, might last a decade, a century or into perpetuity. I am confident the need they meet will continue, possibly delivered on some future digital device other than paper.
I think people seek information with two different mind-sets. These two mind-sets exist in all of us -- young and old, techie and luddite, urban and exurban. I call one mindset “timely search”, and the other, “leisurely discover.” When in timely search mode, we lean forward, narrow our focus and are annoyed by interruptions. When in leisurely discover mode, we sit back, open ourselves to new thoughts and little is considered an interruption.
Two different information formats are necessary to serve these two mind-sets. I call one format “list”, served best by Internet and the other format I call “display” served best by print. The news organizations surviving in the future will be those who recognize and create two different products tailored to these two mindsets.
The timely search mindset is operative when we seek answers to specific questions. "How do I spell luddite?" "Where is Taos?" "What's the best flight to Boone?" "Where was that fire engine going at 2:00 AM?" I call this "who, what, where" information. This information is specific to an individual with a unique need or interest at a unique moment in time. The Internet list has stolen this role from the print display.
The leisurely discover mindset is operative when we seek enlightenment and entertainment. "I could not have imagined landing in those conditions." I appreciate the difficulty those parents are having caring for their child injured in last week’s game ". This information is specific to a group, with a common interest, across a period of time. Print display can retain this role. It is better suited to serving it than Internet list.
The news organizations of tomorrow will be those with online platforms with answers to all questions about life in their community. These will not be places where only professional journalists hold forth. Citizens, businesses and organizations all have answers to offer and need to be integrated and given distinct but equal stature. Sustaining news organizations will host a virtual space that replicates real space. I call it the Digital Main Street™. And just as those with economic motives for being on the Main Street of physical space pay landlords to be there, so too will they pay news organizations to post their news and offers where the community is gathering in virtual space.
So where does that leave the newspaper? If everyone is getting timely answers online, why buy a paper?
Print can remain pertinent by transforming to match the evolving mindset of the reader. No longer are print readers going to be seeking who, what, where. They will have already gotten that from Internet. The newspaper of tomorrow must become more about discovering the richness of the place readers live and no longer about learning who, what, where. The paper will be where readers are engaged in answers to questions they did not have. It will become the place for leisurely consideration by those whose common interest is the place they call home. The paper is where they will be provided content focused on context, analysis, prose, poetry and features by and about the people in their special geographic place.
The printed display format of today's newspapers and magazines best serve the discovery mindset. It lets the reader browse across an array of visual and textual information, go forwards or backwards, start at the back, middle or front, jump around from place to place, discover unexpected insights and pleasures. And it is this discovery process that makes newspaper and magazine advertising so valuable to advertisers. In discovery mindset, the reader is receptive to the lure of attractive and inviting display ads.
Again, the display format may be on a digital device rather than paper, but the format will be retained. It allows the user to scan across attractively laid out collections of information, inviting them to browse and discover enlightenment. So, yes newspapers might die, but the display format will not.
In summary, the news organizations of the future will be focused on meeting two mindsets and the newspaper as we know it today will die. News organizations will have one product to deliver answers to questions in list format to those in search mindset. They will have another product to deliver unexpected insights and pleasures in display format to those in discover mindset. Digital delivery is already the default choice for the search mindset; print on paper our an evolving digital pad will be the choice for the discover mindset.