The wireless threat

The drop in classified revenue will kill newspapers. The drop in advertising revenue will lead to their doom. The fall in circulation will result in newspapers printing fewer days of the week, and maybe cease operations all together.

These are among the more popular doomsday scenarios, none of which will lead to the demise of newspapers. Classified revenue may be close to bottoming out; newspaper inserts — especially on Sunday — are still the most reliable way to get advertiser messages to customers; and the current circulation numbers don’t portend doom, but instead mean we have the customers that really want out products, and they’re tremendously valuable to our advertisers.

But there is new challenger that could do more damage more quickly than any of the issues above — wireless companies. Their ability to market products and turn out new technology bodes poorly for publishers.

Look at what’s happening in the market. Plastic Logic is partnering with AT&T to distribute its e-reader. Rumors persist that Apple’s tablet will be launched this fall, and be distributed through Verizon. If AT&T and Verizon are in the game, you can bet Sprint and T-Mobile won’t be far behind.

Each will be able to offer complete digital packages for one price — a cell phone; netbook (or laptop) for home use; an e-reader for portable use; a data plan to power all of those devices; and, oh by the way, home internet and cable access, too.

The wireless carriers could also sell a digital advertising package across all of their platforms, reaching customers via several tools multiple times a day. The carriers don’t have to produce any content themselves; the thousands of available free apps will take care of that. Notice I said “content” and not “news.”

Here’s where the conjecture comes in: What if the carriers decide they want to partner with select news organizations for exclusive rights to their content …  the content only appears on their devices for their audience? And what if  the carriers offer affordable data plans and focus on combining their services into one attractive package? Which publishers make it, and which ones get shut out because their content isn’t available due to these exclusive deals?

This could be entirely off base. But the wireless carriers see an opportunity, and they’re embracing it much faster than many publilshers.


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