'Ending the Pollyana Party Line'

The unsigned editorial, Ending the Pollyana Party Line on Circulation: Time to Drop the Excuses, in the November 10th edition of Editor & Publisher magazine bears much more attention and discussion than it received in the newspaper industry — even among people who work for newspaper Web sites.

    “Now what? You might expect that to be the industry reaction to the results of the latest FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. After all, the bottom line of all those top-line Publisher’s Statements would seem to be clear: What newspapers are doing to sell copies doesn’t seem to be working, including (at least so far) all the new stuff.”

    But, then, if you’re reading E&P, no doubt you are familiar with the great newspaper industry tradition of explaining away flat or declining circulation results. The weather was too cold, or too hot. Our local team didn’t make the playoffs. There was no Big Story or, as now, there were too many Big Stories. How else to explain declining sales at a time when the sons and daughters of newspaper hometowns were marching into Baghdad? Or why the circulations of nearly every California metro daily were flat or worse during a period when the entire state was riveted on the recall election circus?”

Why should online edition staff care if print circulation is declining? Simple: So long as online editions are shovelware that depend upon printed editions for content; so long as online editions are unprofitable and depend upon printed editions for funding; and so long as online editions are read by less people and much less frequently than even printed editions with shrinking circulations and readerships; then online editions will never succeed printed editions and instead will share the same fate as the declining printed editions. Hello, get a clue!

The newspaper industry’s is resting on two Pollyanasque hopes: That print edition circulations will miraculously reverse their slides. And that online edition usages will miraculously increase to at anywhere even that of print edition usage. Neither has happened: there are no upticks.

The print folks have been waiting 40 years for their circulations to go up. The online folks have been waiting ten years for their usage to go up. Yet, their industry’s own data and facts show no increases.

Both online and print staffs are Pollysanasque, complacently going about their day-to-day jobs even as their industry sinks. The print folks need to re-think their jobs — this isn’t the 1950s anymore. And the online folks need to re-think own their jobs, too. Online isn’t print.

Steve Yelvington recently posted wise words about this, too.