For a few years now I've argued that newspapers are within a decade or two of the end. Few of my contemporaries have seemed to agree, arguing instead that there will always be a market for print dailies. Now I think that if anything I was overestimating the staying power of print media.
With the London Evening Standard going free, News Corp. attempting the ancient ruse of erecting paywalls for 'premium' content and The Observer reportedly on the edge of extinction, it's hard to see much of a future for print newspapers in the UK... and the UK has perhaps the most vibrant newspaper market in the world.
The fact that the newspaper industry is in terminal decline needn't be cause for too much wailing; it's the costly, complex delivery model that's failing, rather than the appetite for good writing and smart layout. What is perhaps more interesting than propping up a flagging market with giveaways, walled-off content and other lures is to ask the question of what happens next to media consumption. I love print but for news media it's a relic and what is needed is a device that offers the quality of newspaper formats and supports a revamped media business model.
Judging by reports on the forthcoming Apple (and, less convincingly, Microsoft) tablet computers, they are ahead of the game and want to be the new newspaper tycoons, or at least provide the necessary infastructure to support the new paperless revolution. With their support, the future could yet be bright for our biggest media brands. Newspapers (or whatever we call them when the paper is gone) can benefit from new operating models that have just shed a ton of cost from print production and distribution.
We're at an inflexion point and the winners are likely to be those that recognise the need for radical change rather than clinging to the hope of perpetuating the status quo through small steps.