Why does the almost universal prophecy of the demise of the newspaper go unfulfilled? The New York Times, which Crichton prepared for burial, has seen its market cap rise from a nadir of about $710 million in 2008 to $7 billion today, thanks to its success at selling digital subscriptions. The Washington Post is losing money, but not the Wall Street Journal, and the industry as a whole is actually profitable.
What Crichton and the other seers missed — and continue to miss — is the medium’s staying power. Circulation and advertising revenue have plunged since the heyday of the 1980s, but what nobody seems to have predicted is the willingness of readers, i.e., subscribers, to cover its costs. In 2013, the Washington Post charged about $130 a year for home delivery. Today, it costs about $700. These rising charges have been uniform across the industry, as H. Iris Chyi at the University of Texas has documented. Crichton and company appear to have underestimated how vital the physical newspaper or its paid website can be to habituated readers.
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