What Is the Future of Online News?

Newspapers around the world are struggling to survive while competing with websites that offer comparable news more quickly and without a subscription fee.

Many newspapers have embraced the Internet and use their own websites to post news, but their online revenue is a fraction of what they get from print advertising and subscriptions.

Newspapers are losing money and one by one they are going bankrupt.

How can print newspapers maintain their profits while competing with online news?

This article explores the predicament and looks at the role that website writers, designers and developers will play in the near future.


Online Subscriptions

The BBC explains that the New York Times plans to start charging users who read more than a certain number of online articles per length of time. The BBC article points out that the Financial Times (a UK-based financial newspaper) has already implemented a similar payment system.

Registered users of the Financial Times website are allowed 10 articles every 30 days for free or unlimited access for $3.59 per week.

The Financial Times’ paywall

This paywall system works for the Financial Times because it sells content that isn’t offered by general interest news websites. Getting as many different opinions as possible is more valuable in the financial world than in the world of current events.

People are willing to subscribe to the Financial Times because they stand to earn more money using the knowledge they have gleaned.

Most news providers aim to provide content without any bias, whereas financial news providers offer valuable and unique information to help readers make informed decisions.

In short, the Financial Times dominates a niche. But what can general print newspapers offer on the web that people cannot already find for free?

Before the Internet reached its current state people had fewer options for consuming news; getting the newspaper delivered to their door was the easiest option. Now with the exception of local news people have an even easier option: turning to free websites and 24-hour news channels.

The newspaper-reading demographic has shrunk to only those who can’t or don’t want to stare at a screen, and that demographic continues to shrink.

The heat is not being felt.


The Competition

News is freely and readily available on the Internet and with so many providers out there newspapers are finding it tough to deliver unique content.

Many people now find their news through social media, which has proven to be one of the quickest ways to communicate on a large scale.

Competing with those networks on speed is nearly impossible for newspapers, aand on depth of coverage, competing with 24-hour news channels and their respective websites is tough, too.

Newspapers instead focus on quality of coverage. But because today’s average consumer wants everything faster and cheaper, this is not a path by which all newspapers can successfully make a profit.

Depending on the country, newspapers might have some room to compete at the national or local level. In Canada, roughly 100 mainstream newspapers have significant subscription rates.

Only a few of them attract decent traffic to their websites, and this traffic depends on Google rankings. Because higher traffic improves search engine ranking significantly, newspapers that sell to larger audiences rank higher, thus drawing traffic that might have otherwise gone to smaller newspapers.

Those smaller newspapers get minimal traffic from Google and rely on people visiting their websites directly. News providers will not be able to co-exist on the Internet at their current numbers while maintaining the same profit levels. These newspapers will not survive by selling only local news. Newspapers need a savior.


Enter the iPad.

Apple’s iPad

Apple’s latest product gives print newspapers a glimmer of hope. These companies did not get a quick jump on the Internet, and they weren’t ready to throw a lot of money at Amazon’s Kindle.

The iPad is their latest and potentially last opportunity to turn things around. Newspapers will do their best to take advantage of the iPad. But they will not succeed.

The iPad won’t trigger any revolutions. It will make news easier to read, but it won’t change the sources from which people get their news.

For newspapers to survive, they have to offer something that cannot be found elsewhere. This is the era of niche blogs. The concept is simple, but newspaper companies don’t seem open to it. They need to drastically change their content, not their approach to gaining subscriptions. But newspapers will not drastically change their content. Does this mean they’re doomed to fail?

It does, for most of them.

Pessimistic, but true. They’re selling something that’s being given away. The only unique thing they’re selling is local news, and few are willing to spend significant money on that. The most popular newspapers in the world will continue to survive, but the vast majority of newspapers will continue spiraling towards bankruptcy.


The Printing Press Is Dead

Online content is taking over. Blogs—especially blogs that fill a niche—will play a critical role in the coming years. Consumers are already canceling their newspaper subscriptions and assembling their RSS feeds.

Those who design and write for these websites have a huge responsibility ahead. They cannot wait any longer to start building something out of the rubble that print news companies are breaking into.


The iPad has the potential to inspire people, and clients will change their website requirements because of it.

Designers and developers need to be ready. Just like mobile phones, the iPad is simply another tool to consume the web. As new as it is, the iPad should not be ignored, nor should it be inflated into something more important than it could ever be.

The New York Times’ announcement of its subscription payment system came suspiciously soon before Apple unveiled the iPad. This is probably no coincidence, considering Steve Jobs used the New York Times to showed off the device during the launch.

The newspaper is banking aggressively on the assumption that people will opt for the electronic version over the print copy. With Apple behind it, the New York Times has a good chance of executing a successful online subscription service. A few other companies may find success, too, but results overall will be lacklustre.

Content providers might be tempted now to revisit the idea of charging subscriptions for their content.

Website creators have to be ready for this, too. Every website is unique, and only a few providers will succeed in selling subscriptions. Just because big websites such as the New York Times are going for online subscription-based revenue does not mean that this is the next logical step for all websites.


The Niche Blog

Many website designers run their own niche blog, and if the content is unique enough, a designer might be able to sell subscriptions to it. The content has to be very high quality, though, and few design blogs meet that standard.

A List Apart is one that does, and it could potentially turn a profit selling subscriptions. But the subscription route is a risky move because it alienates many users and shrinks ad revenue substantially.

Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher, founder and executive creative director of A List Apart, gives two reasons why A List Apart does not put its content behind a paywall:

  • It’s against our belief in free online content.
  • It wouldn’t work unless our competitors also put their content behind a paywall. We appeal to a discerning base of web designers, but if we went behind a paywall, it would be as if we had stopped publishing. Our readers would turn elsewhere.”

He goes on to clarify that he is not against others implementing such a system. He plans to pay for the online version of the New York Times and would be willing to pay for access to respectable blogs, but he doesn’t believe that system would benefit A List Apart.

The future of news is hard to predict. Newspapers will continue shutting down, and online content will play an increasingly significant role.

Being able to assess whether a particular project has the potential to succeed is an important part of any web designer, developer or blogger’s job, and also one of the most difficult.

Whether the iPad succeeds is irrelevant. What matters is how people choose which content to consume (with or without the iPad) and how content providers manage to maximize their profits.

This article was written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Eli Penner (http://www.sleepyhero.com). Special thanks to Jeffrey Zeldman for his valuable insight.

Do you agree or disagree with this article? Feel free to leave a comment below…

  • http://hamroawaaz.com Web Guru

    Yes, this is true that online news is slowly but steadily replacing print media. But for the online media to grow as much as the print media, they have to have a strong plan. Like that New York Times did, which is read news on subscription basis.

    The print media also has to survive.

  • http://aevumincorruptus.com Jeff G

    I still believe that Newspaper companies will continue to sell both “e”-articles AND “paper” articles in order to sustain both niches. I still believe we’re still 20 years away from the Newspaper industry going completely electronic. However, that being said, with the Kindle, iPad, and a myriad other reading devices, it sure is being pushed that way…

  • http://andysowards.com Andy Sowards

    Great read – Totally interesting to see what is going to happen in the News industry in the next few years. I LOVE Blogs – Never was a big fan of Newspapers.

    One thing is for sure that image of the empty newspaper box is hilarious lol

  • Max

    I submit that this is just the beginning. I believe that after the print version falls to the wayside (much like vinyl records which are practically nil but do have a spot), television is next. The news shows as we know them will eat each other to form larger, facet-based systems that one can go to for specific forms of news (finance, sports, etc.) and they will all be on-demand. As soon as the average consumer realises that the media center will be their own personal internet in the living room, then we will see a new method of content delivery.

  • Sam

    Sorry Eli, your information is all based on a false premise. World-wide, newspaper circulation and readership is actually growing because of all the underdeveloped countries. Prove me wrong.

    Part 2, Pugh Research showed that over the course of 2009, 96% of all news content found online was still produced by the traditional media (61% newspapers, 28% television, 7% radio). News is a commodity, bought and sold in packages and through licenses. News on Yahoo, MSNBC does not just magically appear. And it is not free. Most people pay between $50 to $100 per month for high-speed online access.

    The reason the traditional media will win over blogs, you’ve just proven yourself – bloggers have no accountability or credibility in what they say or report.

    If I live in “Smalltown USA,” a town of under 75,000, where am I going to get my local news about my community – a local blogger, internet geek in his basement – or from a “paid” newspaper or television website?

    Get real. You don’t have a clue little man.

    • http://www.sleepyhero.com Eli

      Here are two resources that I used while forming my argument that newspapers are failing:

      It makes sense that 59% (96% * 61%) of all news on the Internet is provided by newspaper agencies. There are too many sources for news on the Internet. I believe that market is over-saturated and some/most companies will see significant declines in sales/readership.

      Internet access fees do not go to the people who write news articles. Maybe it does indirectly but I think that’s a different argument. Nothing is 100% free. I used the term “free” as a more direct term.

      If you live in Smalltown USA you will still go to your local newspaper to be kept up to date, but they won’t be able to support their entire staff if the only content they’re selling is local news.

      That was a rude and unprofessional way to end your comment.

  • http://wwww.quicksmartwebsites.com Jimmy W

    Its gonna take a long time to replace all those papers. Most people over 50 :p wouldnt know how to turn the pages on a laptop or ipad. Id imagine its the youngsters that have stopped buying papers, cause they only have to visit sites like google to get the news they want. Great for the environment if paper printing did end.

  • Marco

    In the end, if people aren’t prepared to pay for news, quality would suffer badly and we’d end up with online, ad-supported news.

  • http://craigbaldwin.com/ Craig Baldwin

    I would say that presuming large swathes of people are turning to RSS readers and leaving traditional media behind is a misunderstanding, the people that read this blog are in a small minority (see http://www.drawar.com/articles/world-wide-web-for-dummies-not-us/87/ and http://speirs.org/blog/2010/1/29/future-shock.html). I’m sure it wasn’t long ago that I was reading about how RSS readers have failed to attract a large audience.

    As Sam said above people can not necessarily trust bloggers and still prefer trusted news sources, people prefer going to a known source for all their information, the exact reason the Financial Times can put up that pay wall is because they are trusted in the same way as the Guardian or the BBC. Online advertising revenue is increasing as well and as more people move away from the paper to the Internet that will only increase further.

    As an example I’m a fan of F1, I follow lots of F1 fans on Twitter and when they tweet news about it, it’s always comes from trusted names such as AutoSport or the BBC. Independent bloggers will not have the finances to follow F1 around the world and report on it, it’s something only established sources can afford.

    I would agree however that printed news will disappear this decade, but the names behind them will continue to adapt and survive.

    • http://www.sleepyhero.com Eli

      You stated that you believe that the big trusted news sources like BBC and the Guardian will continue to survive but not in their printed form. What do you think about the smaller, more local newspapers?

      I read more news from national and international sources than I do from my local paper and I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. I think that there are at most twenty newspaper-based companies that will continue to survive without a large-scale printed version and thousands of newspaper companies that will not survive another ten years. This applies to newspaper companies in countries that have a large internet infrastructure set up and a large percentage of their population have regular access to the internet.

  • http://sexidesign.com Melody

    I wonder how long it’ll take for the press to completely eliminate paper. It’s probably too soon to say but give the Ipad a couple of years–when it becomes “affordable” for the average american, and we’ll all be flipping an animated page with the touch of our finger.

  • http://sexidesign.com Melody


    All media has bias, just because it comes from a corporation doesn’t make it free from error. Don’t forget that many popular bloggers are established and world renowned entrepreneurs and businesspeople so valid expertise is apparent in either medium.

  • http://www.ecommerce-blog.org Jestep

    I think that the WSJ is the exception to just about every news prediction in the past 10 years. They are still going strong, with paid membership only, and still have a huge paper distribution. By far the best paper in the US if not the world, and as long as it stays that way, their model should continue to succeed.

    The point is, that if your product is good enough, it can break through any changes in user behavior. Content is still king. The only thing that really changes is the delivery method.

    • http://www.sleepyhero.com eli

      Solid point Jestep. That will be true forever.

  • Brett

    Yes I tend to agree with Sam up there but I also disagree as well. I’m on the fence. The problem with social media content is, as Sam said, bloggers have little to no credibility. We can see some of them as legitimate sources of news and people do in fact believe a lot of what they read on these blogs even though they aren’t properly cited.

    However, you can’t beat a newspaper for the simple fact that what you read should be accurate (or at least it has proven itself to be for quite sometime, with the exception of opinions sections).

    I could see the print media of newspapers going all online though. I for one would not like that, even though i’m 20 and should be all for the new digital age but I love having a physical thing to read in my hand. Something I can interact with and flip through, I enjoy the feel of reading a magazine or a newspaper. And i’m sorry to the Kindle and the ipad but it just doesn’t cut it. There is still hope for print because it just feels right. Even in my classes when we have online readings, 9 times out of 10 i’ll print them to read them…waste of paper? Yes. I just have to have it that way.

    So I think there is a place for both blogs and papers/magazines. I just hope we don’t get too engrossed in this digital age to start actually phasing away papers/magazines as you have outlined here. I think that would be a big step in the wrong direction.

  • http://www.loveishs.com/ tanya

    I think online news has a great future. It is gaining popularity day by day and one day it will definitely become more popular than print media.

  • http://www.ukpb.co.uk/ Buy My House

    I think depends upon the interest of the people, Some people like to read news paper and some what like to go for the online news. I don’t thing that it will make huge difference between online news and news paper.

  • http://www.aviontechnology.net Chet

    I agree with you regarding the demise of print and with respect to news going the free route. This whole piece is in line with my belief that slowly information technology is going to create a more equitable world.

    All forms of discrimination have been based on the principle of witholding of information amongst certain classes of people. With the advent of the internet, the open source movement and , yes, google, this information frontier has begun to crumble. More and more people are going to have the opportunity to become upwardly mobile because now they have access to free information.

    I remember, growing up in India in the 80s, when we had one government sponsored TV channel, whose news used to be nothing but government propaganda. This was socialist India.

    Today, in the blatantly capitalistic 21st century India, given the spectrum of choice we have, we can actually choose which news provider we want to align ourselves with. With media houses vying for eyeballs, the average consumer is more empowered politically and therefore, eventually he will also be empowered financially. In that respect, news going online is a step towards a more open society and eventually a better welfare state.

  • http://minute44.com Dan

    The iPad won’t have as big an impact on the future of news media as the iPhone has. In all seriousness, how many people will actually carry their iPad around with them? I know I wouldn’t.

    I almost exclusively get my online news through my iPhone now. I used to scrap most of the contents of my feed reader like once or twice a month but since having an iPhone I am able to keep up with my feeds so much better I’ve not declared bankruptcy once.

    I think there is a place for paid online newspapers, albeit a limited one. The Guardian iPhone app looks particularly good, with great offline support and highly customisable content. Plus, you know the likes of Stephen Fry and Charlie Brooker both write for them and that is content I’d be happy to pay for. Except the beauty part is you don’t pay for the content, just the app at £2.39. Lots of win.

  • Jeetendra

    The Printing Press will never dead. People are more comfortable reading on physical media. This is the reason the paper newspapers, books popularity is still growing.

  • dev0347

    I think what this article vastly underestimates – in fact, I’ll check back now, but I don’t think you ever mention it – is that reading a newspaper is an actual joy in itself, as Brett [@12] has commented above

    This statement:

    The newspaper-reading demographic has shrunk to only those who can’t or don’t want to stare at a screen, and that demographic continues to shrink.

    is entirely without foundation and could not be more wrong.

    I can read The Guardian for free online. I have their paid app on my iPod and iPhone so I can read it without adverts. But I still buy the newspaper every Saturday and Sunday (when it’s the Observer) because being able to sit in the living room of my house with my girlfriend next to me on the sofa and several sections of a newspaper spread out around me, as I sip at a scalding hot, extra strong coffee, is one of the rare, simple pleasures in life.

    My father – who is in his 70s, but couldn’t live without spotify – completely understands that he can read The Times online and often refers back to the online version to recall things he’s read previously, but the fact is that he still takes three dead-trees newspapers in his house every day of the week because, for him, there is pleasure in the stillness of reading his newspapers in a room where there is no noise but the sounds of birds through his window. No electronic hum, no flickering screen.

    The top 10 national newspapers in the UK sell just under 10m copies a day – roughly 9.8m, actually – and that’s excluding the regional and local titles, some of which are very strong indeed (Scotland’s Daily Record sells 350k copies in a market of 5m, almost double the 185k sales of The Independent, which is sold to a market of 55m).

    But, here’s the thing. In any number of markets, no-one is dropping sales faster than NewsCorp, who own the both The Times and the New York Times, both of whose print editions are struggling. Perhaps if Mr Murdoch and his family took some time out from attacking the BBC and bloggers and from condoning wire-tapping of private individuals “on an industrial scale”, and more time ensuring that The Times and the New York Times were better newspapers – and their politics more in line with the sort of people that still do buy newspapers in this age, rather than those of the proprietor – then people would still buy them.

  • http://www.downnews.co.uk Michael

    I also agree, I set up a free online newspaper for Co. Down (Ireland) http://www.downnews.co.uk, there are two other print newspapers in my area but my simple online version is proving to be quite popular.

    I think people no longer want to pay for news and can easily log on to CNN or SKY news. localized online newspapers will appear more and more and focus on selling ads. (That’s the Hard Part)

  • http://www.creativeindividual.co.uk Laura

    Hi Eli, I’m sorry but I was with you until you brought the iPad into the equation unnecessarily – why the iPad over any other product that surfs the internet? Mobile phones, laptops, netbooks, desktops, and I’m sure a lot more that I can’t think off. What makes the iPad so special that it’ll save the Newspaper industry (if they embrace it)?

    In fact, your whole argue seemed a bit off to me. When reading, I felt that I should be hearing solutions to the problem, but all I got was “The End is Nigh”, buy all the newspapers you can while their still around.

    To be honest, I just got confused. What was the point you were trying to make? I wouldn’t say that you contradicted yourself, but to me, your message wasn’t clear. Are you saying that the future of online news is blogs? Viewed on iPads of course… I’m sorry about if I want ACTUAL news, I want it to be creditable, and for that, generally speaking, I look off-line.

    • http://www.sleepyhero.com Eli

      Your criticisms are valid. I will try to stay more focused on my next article and have a more satisfying conclusion.

  • http://www.quality-outsource-design.com/ James

    Nice post, this really make sense but as we all know actual paper really place a good stuff than on net specially if the news if from local only.

  • http://ansh.thisisitonline.info/ Amberly | Web Designer

    Nice article indeed.

    Future of online news is going to be the next battle ground of our corporate. Right now much of the market share is with Google and others. i use iGoogle all time for my news updates.

  • http://airopia.org Tom – Airopia

    Looks like we have some people here that do not like change, and what is a newspaper? =)

  • pesho

    i can’t imagine our life without the traditional newspaper
    but i love both
    thanks 4 share


    In France newspapers are also facing a big crisis ….
    Partly because, like me, many are now reading them online …
    But also because there is so many free PRINTED newspapers ….
    When I am taking the subway everyday I am handed over no less than 5 newspapers (3 in the morning, one in the evening + the weekly edition of an other) ….
    I only buy a newspaper when it is offering special content not available online (like covering a national comics convention, with interviews of artists and exclusive drawings from them …)

  • Zach

    The Printing Press will never be dead.

  • http://joemacstevens.com Joe Stevens

    You are right that the iPad shouldn’t be ignored. Even if the iPad is not a huge hit the format is going to be and we as web designers should be making touch friendly interfaces.

  • http://www.greenapplesales.com Chicago Web Design Company

    The iPad is like everything Apples makes… excellent. The largest threat to print media to date.

    Great job Apple! Love my Macbook Pro too!