The New York Times is one of the most famous and respected papers for many years around the world, as well as one of the largest. However, the current NY Times CEO has declared that paper newspapers will disappear in two decades.
The New York Times was founded in 1851, but it would surprise outgoing CEO Mark Thompson if the physical paper made it to 2040.
“I believe the Times will definitely be printed for another 10 years and quite possibly another 15 years — maybe even slightly more than that,” Thompson told CNBC’s A View from the Top. “I would be very surprised if it’s printed in 20 years’ time.”
More than 900,000 people subscribe to the print version of the newspaper, said Thompson. At its current subscriber levels, the paper could be printed seven days a week at a profit without a single advertisement, he said.
But as readers become more accustomed to reading the Times on smartphones, tablets and computers each year, a printed paper is clearly a dying form. The New York Times Company reported last quarter that total digital revenue exceeded print revenue for the first time ever. Print advertising fell more than 50% year over year from last quarter, driven by both secular declines and the pandemic. Thompson told CNBC he doubts that advertising will ever come back.
“I’m skeptical about whether it will recover to where it was during 2019 levels,” Thompson said. “It was already in year-over-year decline for many years. I think that decline is probably inexorable.”
Thompson is stepping down next month as the Times’ CEO, to be replaced by Meredith Levien, after stewarding the company for the past eight years. As CEO, Thompson has seen shares of The New York Times Company rise more than 400%. The company’s gains have come as digital subscriptions have skyrocketed, especially in the past five years. The Times reported 1 million digital-only subscriptions in October 2015. At the end of the second quarter, the Times had 5.7 million total digital-only subscriptions. Thompson set a goal for the company to reach 10 million digital-only customers by 2025. (source)
This is a trend that many have seen long-coming because of costs in printing, transportation, distribution, storage, and other logistics. It was likely this was going to happen, and it is a surprise that paper has held on as long as it has.
However, there is a concern about this because the physical newspaper provides a hard-copy record that is difficult to erase, especially for the politically ambitious, and given the tendency of humans to rewrite history to one’s liking when one is in power, this is why the media is often called “the enemy”- because it just reports.
The press can be used for malicious purposes, but ultimately it is a good and important thing to keep the free flow of ideas and positions that one disagrees with in consideration, especially for those who have dictatorial tendencies, which can be any man or “leader”. Liking someone does not make him necessarily a “good” leader, and neither does dislike make somebody a “bad” leader, but rather such determinations are to be made by if not outside observers, then from the window of history as it permits people to look back and reflection the consequences of particular actions or refusals to act.
The end of the paper newspaper is a trend, and a likely inevitable one, but not a good one, as it is a way of erasing physical records from the public record. This may make storage easier in the short term, but long term makes it more vulnerable to not just loss, but abuse from those for whom there is never enough power and would re-write the story of the human race if they though it served their immediate interest.