How I know that newspapers are dead

After I started blogging in December about the onrushing death of the newspaper industry — as exemplified by the shrinkage, corporate-wise, of the Times-Dispatch and its parent, Media General — I continued to think about the topic a great deal. So much so, in fact, that I had the idea to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, which, after a week of writing, I sent to my agent.

She got back to me not long after that and told me, bluntly, that the book would never sell to a mainstream house.

Why not?

People aren’t buying newspapers today, she told me . . . so who would buy a book about newspapers?

While that fact is increasingly significant, I still thought it was a good idea. 48 million people read a newspaper every day, and that doesn’t count the millions of readers of a few thousand community weekly papers — and a large number of American who don’t read any papers at all, but are interested in business, the economy, futurism, and publishing.

I can try to get another agent who might believe in the book – hell, I got Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and NYT bestselling author Edna Buchanan to agree to write the foreword for me – but then I started thinking about a less traditional publishing route, where I could capitalize on publishing on the Web and stir up some viral word of mouth.

Yesterday I contacted Jeff Jarvis, the guy who wrote What Would Google Do? and who has a blog all about journalism, technology and the death/rebirth of news, and I asked for his advice — is there a venue on the Web where a book like this could be published, maybe week by week, and raise not only public interest, but some money? Is there a venue where a potential publisher could see it?

His response, like my agent’s, was brutally honest.

No. There isn’t a market for a book about a dying industry.

He had already tried to market a book of his own, and his publisher didn’t even want to hear about it.

Seriously.

If Jeff couldn’t sell his book, then what chance would I, a mere 14-year veteran of ad sales and marketing, ever have?

If you’re even remotely interested, the introduction is here. I based it on a blog post about the RTD ten months ago, but I’ve expanded it and opened it up, setting the stage for the rest of the now-dead book which was to be about the potential reinvention of the industry.

Here’s the title:

SUICIDE BY STUPIDITY

THE SLOW AND AGONIZING ALMOST-TOO-PAINFUL-
TO-WATCH EXTINCTION OF THE GREAT METROPOLITAN DINOSAUR

A Tough Love Guide to Kick Newspapers Off Their Brontosaurian Asses and Into the 21st Century . . . or Die

Oh well. Thank you anyway, Jeff — I appreciate your honesty.

So it’s time to put this project behind me and ramp it up with the novel. My agent wants rewrites, and I agree.

More than I ever wanted to admit, it’s time to cut. It’s time to sing.

It’s time to leave the past — and the dead — behind.

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One thought on “How I know that newspapers are dead

  1. Good. As a former editor at the TD, I support your decision. I haven't picked up a copy of the paper since they stopped delivering to my house post-layoff. Though I do read it online. And found it interesting that their story today on plummeting newspaper circulation failed to disclose their own numbers. Maybe they will be in the paper tomorrow, where they won't be read by their many former subscribers.

    Like

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