The rumors of possible acquisition of The New York Times by billionaire Donald Trump that appeared in late January caused a stir among analysts. The transition of a solid and respectable publication in the hands of a businessman with a controversial reputation is not just a business deal. Such a move reflects the underlying processes happening in the world of print media and mass media in general: old business models and editorial concepts no longer work.
The New York Times that enjoys unquestioned authority in the world, the first issue of which came out in 1851, belongs to the Sulzberger clan for over one hundred years (since 1896). This family firmly holds the reins of the corporation (which, in addition to the NYT, includes The International Herald Tribune and The Boston Globe, along with their paper and electronic editions). There are no anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws that could affect their grip. Until recently, it was impossible to imagine the company under somebody else's administration.
Nevertheless, the first bell, indicating the probable change of ownership, rang in the summer of 2012, when the press started talking about Michael Bloomberg's plans to buy The New York Times Company. However, Bloomberg is a wealthy businessman and politician, the mayor of New York and the owner of Bloomberg news agency. Donald Trump is a completely different story. He, too, is a billionaire and is directly related to the world of mass media (Trump is known as the producer and host of reality show "The Candidate"). However, his way of life and communication make him the enfant terrible of high society. The respectable NYT will fall into the hands of this parvenue? It is absolutely impossible!
Representatives of the Sulzberger family deny the rumors. Thus, the publisher and chairman of the board of directors, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., laughed in response, when asked in Davos about a possible sale of the newspaper. Trump answers such questions in his usual manner: "I think that many readers would hope for it."
Meanwhile, the situation of the publication continues to deteriorate. Two months ago, in early December, Sulzberger grimly stated that the advertising environment remained fragile, and there was no forecast for the near future. Jobs in the advertising, security and news departments of the company were cut soon afterwards. The staff of the news department was cut right down to the level of 2013.
Most analysts, having heard the news, only chuckled. The problems of the NYT fit the long-predicted trend for print media to die. People started talking about it five years ago, and this theory finds more and more evidence every year. Newspapers and magazines rapidly lose circulation and subscribers, whereas advertisers (through which print media survive) turn to online audiences. Some analysts even gave the date when the era of print media would end - 2030. The audience of online media was growing at the same pace at which print media were losing their audience.
Publishers believed in this trend in the long run and frantically rushed to develop online divisions. However, it soon became clear that it was an expensive and generally difficult goal to pursue. Let's start with the fact that, in contrast to the established audience of print publications (glamour and showbiz press has its own, business press has a different audience of its own), online readers are so variegated that it's difficult to understand what they want. Some experts called to abandon traditional journalism and turn media structures into aggregators, which could collect the content produced by independent bloggers. Others, however, pointed to the success of New Yorker iPad-App, that made a stake on quality journalism and other unique content.
Another stumbling block is the monetization of virtual media. Advertising revenues do not cover all costs for the production of high-tech products. Therefore, one should proceed to charging people for access to the content? But how? Without going into details, we would note that publishers tried a number of options, but none of them was a panacea. As a result, problems appeared not only for online versions of print publications: December 2012 became the last month for online magazine The Daily, established in the empire of media mogul Rupert Murdoch as a special application for Apple iPad.
When it was launched in early 2011, many predicted incredible success to the publication, and Murdoch was glowing with optimism. "There will be no paper, no printing presses, and we will spend these saved millions of dollars for the benefit of our readers. The target audience is the 50 million Americans expected to own tablets in the next year."
So what happened? The Daily quietly breathed its last gasp, despite the support of two monsters - the Murdoch News Corporation and Apple.
Noteworthy, the above problems are characteristic of the printing press in Russia. For example, one of the largest advertising and media-buying agencies in the CIS and Eastern Europe - the group of companies "Video International" eliminated its "VI Press" department last year. The department was dealing with advertising in newspapers and magazines.
In short, the problems of The New York Times indeed reflect a crisis of the modern press, and, perhaps, mass media in general. Maybe, one needs a businessman like Donald Trump to find the right way out of the crisis?