By any measure, the presidential election this past week resulting in a decisive win for Barack Obama, was a stunning news story:
- The first African American president
- A redrawing of the longstanding electoral map.
- A firm mandate for change and a repudiation of the existing order.
The following day, newspapers sold like hotcakes, a temporary respite from the agonizing death spiral that many newspapers in the US find themselves confronting every day. Newspapers could hardly keep the newsstands supplied with enough copies. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times,
The Chicago Tribune sold framed front pages for as much as $99. A single copy of the New York Times is said to have sold on EBay for $249.99, and another copy of that paper drew more than 20 bids before the auction closed — for $400.
The numbers were impressive. Here are some examples reported by The Guardian:
- NY Times sold 225,000 copies obove the normal run of about 430,000
- Washington Post sold an additional 30,000 copies above its normal newsstand sales of 100,000
- Both papers sold hundreds of thousands of commemorative copies of their post election papers
- Chicago Tribune reported selling an additional 200,000+ newspapers
Papers in Denver, San Francisco, Orlando and many other markets also reported selling out their print runs Newspapers have seem similar short term spikes in their sales following major events – e.g. immediately following 9/11. Overall, the run up to the election didn’t help newspapers; circulation in October didn’t rise despite the presidential race and the global economic tumult. Inevitably, they will no doubt return to their dismal long term trend – shrinking circulation, shrinking advertising revenues, rising costs.
This phenomenon may indicate at least a couple of things:
- People still see (at least some) newspapers as providing a more in depth analysis of important events compared to either the highly compressed news bytes of the television networks, or the mostly opinion laden prattle of cable networks and the blogosphere.
- Newspapers – as mementos of history – provide a materiality that has become more important in our digital and ephemeral age.
While the book publishers aren’t facing quite the gloomy economic prospects of their newspaper cousins, printed titles retain value as cherished reading artifacts that goes beyond their simple utility for delivering entertainment or information. The printed book fills the human desire for things substantive and tactile, and frees our imagination and intellect to explore something in depth, sans commercial interruptions.
- Achieving Depth in Chunks – An Interview with Online Reporter Monica Guzman of the Seattle P-I
- Esquire – e-Ink Stained Wretch
- The Read on Hard Times
- The Huffington Post – Seeds of a New Journalism?
- Newspapers’ Perilous Crossing to the Online World
- Blogs are the New Takeover Bait for Mainstream Media Outlets