On Wednesday, The Sporting News announced that it would be ceasing the publication of its print magazine and moving to an all-digital format. This same week — on Saturday, specifically — the Rupert Murdoch-funded daily iPad-only newspaper The Daily will deliver its last issue.
These two seemingly barely related events ought to say much to the world of journalism.
The Sporting News had printed a weekly magazine for 122 years before switching to a biweekly format in 2008. It originally developed a reputation for its baseball coverage before expanding to other sports in recent decades. The Sporting News joins Newsweek as a major American magazine to cease its print publication to go all-in on the Internet and emerging technologies.
In a statement, the company said, “Unfortunately, neither our subscriber base nor the current advertising market for print would allow us to operate a profitable print business going forward.”
The Daily has a much shorter history, obviously, but a very similar end. NewsCorp published the first issue of The Daily in February 2011, and it remains the only daily publication designed exclusively for the tablet format. However, The Daily was said to be losing $30 million annually, and early this month NewsCorp announced that it was ceasing publication, with Murdoch saying The Daily “could not find a large enough audience quickly enough to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term.”
Now, aside from the fact that both of these publication can be put under the tag of “journalism,” they otherwise aren’t so connected. One was a well-respected source of sports news and analysis, the other an experiment in new technology with a format that rode the line between tabloid and news. But their stories together are a gauge for where the world of news, journalism and publication are at.
No matter what the format is — whether it be print or digital — it all seems to be failing. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that journalism as a whole is failing, or even that bloggers and other sources of “news” have made significant inroads to taking their audience.
But what it does mean is that the industry is stuck between two worlds right now, and it’s a complicated cycle as to how the shift from old media to new is occurring. In short, advertising — where media sources make most of their money — isn’t worth nearly as much online as in print. At the same time, digital is sucking eyeballs away from print publications, devaluing that market.
So, the result of this vicious cycle is that the entire business of journalism and publication is flailing. That’s why seemingly valuable brands such as Newsweek or The Sporting News can’t make their business viable in print, but the most cutting-edge publications in terms of taking advantage of new technologies are also failing. Those formats haven’t been effectively monetized yet.
Now, the answer is that print is indeed a living relic of the past, and that all publications will probably be all digital at some point in the (not too distant) future. This is inevitable insofar as it just makes logical sense — just as we’re seeing the revelation of the complete irrelevance of music in physical form, there is no need to print something on paper when it can be delivered in an electronic format.
However, this transition will never be able to be fully realized until digital advertising is fully monetized. One would expect that this will eventually happen, as eyeballs will follow convenience as soon as the technology becomes more affordable. However, in the meantime, journalism suffers through rough days.
So, is The Sporting News a dying brand or ahead of the curve? The answer is both. But, the thing to keep in mind is that, as this monumental industry flux occurs, the brands we grew up trusting may change hands, change focus or what have you. The Sporting News as a name will probably survive, but it’s very much up in the air — and dependent on the individuals running it — to ensure that the brand maintains its luster.
Even if that brand is now a digital one.
Photo via Facebook/The Sporting News