By Steven Levingston
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006
Readers of the Rocky Mountain News used to get 7 1/2 pages of stock tables in their daily newspaper, but now they have to go online for nearly all the financial listings. Only one page of statistics remains in the print edition -- a mere nod to what was once a fundamental service that all papers brought their readers.
"Frankly, it's had almost no measurable impact on our circulation," said John Temple, who began slashing the financial data after he became editor of the Denver newspaper in 1998. "The world changes. We can't just continue to do the same thing and think that is what the reader wants from us in 2006 or 2007."
The Rocky Mountain News has been among the most aggressive in wiping out stock tables. Many other papers have moved some of their listings online, and if they haven't, they're getting close.
The changes often rankle readers used to checking yesterday's General Motors stock price over coffee at the breakfast table. But as newspaper circulation declines and newsprint prices rise, pressure is building on publishers to cut costs and move more of their franchise to the Internet.
Some of the nation's biggest dailies are considering significant changes to their stock tables. "Elimination of the stock tables is something we have considered and will continue to evaluate," New York Times spokeswoman Catherine J. Mathis said in an e-mail.
The Los Angeles Times is considering modifying its listings. "However, we're not prepared to disclose details of our plans until we've first informed our readers," David Garcia, a Times spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Washington Post spokesman Eric Grant would not say whether the newspaper is considering trimming its stock tables.
Temple said that some readers were upset by his cuts but that logic drove his actions. Investors, he said, are mostly higher-income people who probably have Internet connections at home and want up-to-the-minute stock prices rather than the day-old figures a newspaper provides.
Moving the tables online has saved the paper considerable amounts in newsprint costs -- which, Temple said, are rising 15 percent this year. He has been able to invest more in the newsroom, increasing his staff by about 10 percent during the tough newspaper years of 2001 to 2005, he said.
"One of the things you're able to do by not committing swaths of newsprint to agate is that you can use it for other purposes," Temple said of the small type typically used for stock listings.
The stock-table debate underscores the growing convergence of newspapers' print and online operations. Once the geeky cousin kept at arm's length, newspaper Web sites are playing a growing role in disseminating the news.
In recent months, both the New York Times and USA Today merged their online and print newsrooms. And Dow Jones & Co. last week put its Internet and newspaper operations together in a new unit under a corporate-wide restructuring.
The changes reflect the shift in readers' habits that is forcing newspaper publishers to reconsider their traditional strategies. Readers are paying less attention to where they get their news from the major media companies -- online or in print -- and are even showing more willingness to pay for some Internet content, analysts said.
Competition that used to exist between newsroom and Web site is being reframed as cooperation. Journalists on the print-and-ink side are no longer just newspaper people; they often file their stories to Web sites and appear on television and radio.
"If you used to think of yourself as a newspaper person, now you have to think of yourself as a newsperson whose work goes out over a variety of channels," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "We're moving away from a business model that's been a century in developing, and there are a lot of unknowns."
For publishers struggling to maintain advertising as print circulation shrinks, fast-growing Internet ad sales represent new hope. In 2005, ad revenue on newspaper Web sites rose 30 percent to $2.1 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
James Peters, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor's in New York, predicted that Web site ad sales will increase 25 percent in 2006.
But even with those gains, the vast majority of newspaper companies' advertising revenue still comes from print operations.
Publishers hope to supplement online revenue by charging for some Web site content. The experiments so far have had mixed results. Some community papers have tried and backed off. The New York Times introduced premium content on its Web site last year and attracted 410,000 subscribers. About 62 percent receive the added content free as part of a paid newspaper subscription; the other 38 percent pay $49.95 a year.
Dow Jones, which has led the way in online subscriptions by charging for the Wall Street Journal online, began selling subscriptions to the Barron's Web site in January. The site has attracted more than 45,000 paid subscribers. Most of the subscribers pay $20 a year to add Barron's to their Wall Street Journal online subscription; subscriptions for other readers range from $39 to $79 a year.
If readers are willing to pay for some or all content online, publishers will have an opportunity to develop a business model similar to the current one, based on both advertising and subscription sales.
Some analysts say trends in the music industry indicate consumers' growing willingness to pay for what was once free online. Though the music-sharing site Napster paved the way for consumers to get music free, most online music lovers now accept fees for downloading their favorite tunes.
"When newspapers gave you the print version free online, readers were unwilling to pay for it. Now there's a layering of content that makes people recognize that certain kinds of material is worth paying for," Rainie said. "Consumers' expectations are shifting. There's a tremendous amount of ferment sorting out what people will pay for and won't pay for, but it's not the presumption anymore that every piece of content under every set of circumstances should be free."