More early retirements at our local newspaper, the Pensacola News Journal. What we are seeing at the PNJ is happening to the newspaper industry. It is an industry in a state of change.
What is happening at the News Journal is symptomatic of an aging industry. Whether that makes the PNJ more a victim of circumstance than of their own doing is arguable, but the fact is the print news industry is changing. The computer age that enabled the media to get and share info has become a not insignificant part of the industry’s woes because the same information, and more, is also available online to their customers.
There is plenty of evidence of how industries evolve as the need to meet customers’ demand changes. Some evolve and survive. Others die.
Look at the effect the internet has had on the movie industry. Retail stores sprung up all over the country to rent movies. Movie Gallery, Blockbuster, and small mom and pop stores renting movies. In the quest for a better mouse trap, companies like NetFlix and RedBox sprung up making movie distribution so much more convenient. The customers get their needs fulfilled in a way that no longer includes the brick and mortar stores. That industry is changing, never to be the same again. The brick and mortar stores are closing, giving way to movie vending machines or internet access from your home that need no employees to serve you when you want to be served. The recording industry faced the same metamorphosis. Record stores are more like antique shops. The trend now is online with shops like iTunes.
Remember the Sears Catalog Sales stores where you could buy your washing machine and pick up your catalog order from “The Book” in the same store? Sears, once the largest retailer in the world, has seen the end of the catalog segment of their business.
With its roots in the late 1950’s and 60’s, a ‘new’ industry arose in the 70’s and 80’s. The Catalog Showroom industry. The Sears ‘Big Book’ was, for all intents and purposes, replaced by a thinner book and monthly and seasonal flyers inserted into newspapers for stores that carried (on a good day) everything that was in the catalog. The giants in that industry were Service Merchandise (TN) and Best Products (VA). Smaller players in this industry were, H.J. Wilson (LA) and Present Company (NY). In fact, it was H.J. Wilson Co. that brought my family to Pensacola in the early 1980’s. I saw the industry grow for about 25 years, then die a slow death. They were replaced by stores that were even more convenient.
I don’t see the news industry dying. But it is in a state of change. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess. What is certain though is that there will be something better, from a consumer standpoint, that will either augment or replace the newsprint industry. That is, as long as free-market forces are at work and Washington stays out of the bailout business.