How newspapers could have slowed their decline

Former newspaper reporter turned industry analyst John Morton says most of the action America’s newspaper publishers took to stave off advertising revenue declines in the run up to the recession made matters worse.

He’s right and his analysis is smart. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the industry.

One point he makes is corporate publishers squeezed margins of 20 percent or better from their papers. And this is where he hits the nail on the head.

Historically family owned newspaper companies made modest margins – closer to 10 percent than 20 percent. This represented a good return on capital for owners, who had the added bonus of influence and prestige. They could hobnob with the mighty and use their power for good, or bad.

Corporations spotted the potential for higher profits, but could only sustain this over the long haul by killing the goose laying the golden egg. By the time the internet appeared, they thought they could parlay their media assets into a digital play and make even more money.

Boy were they wrong.

Costly Mistakes  | American Journalism Review.