Apps Cannibalise Newspaper Sales: Surprise to Anyone?


News Corp (s nwsa) head of European and Asian operations James Murdoch said (via Reuter’s) that iOS (s aapl) apps cannibalize print sales, much more so than newspaper websites do. Such a claim begs the question: Isn’t that what everyone expected would happen?

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is getting a lot of attention because of its decision to put a huge chunk of its online news content behind a paywall, an experiment which Mathew Ingram thinks is a total bust. Titles behind the paywall, including The Times of London, the Sunday Times and News of the World lost as much as 90 percent of their online readership since the paywall went up, though the remaining readership pays News Corp directly via subscription.

The elder Murdoch, News Corp’s CEO and James’ father, has publicly praised the iPad as a device that could potentially turn things around for news media. James Murdoch agrees, saying “We go to the iTunes store because it’s frictionless. They charge a percentage, but the guy on the newsstand and the newsagent charge a percentage, and they don’t even merchandise it properly.”

But apps, says James Murdoch, also have a problem: They steal readers away from print editions, more so than even websites with the exact same content. Of course they do. People like apps because they provide similar formatting to print editions, with greater interactivity, but without sacrificing portability and readability.

I may have missed something, but I thought the whole point of digital formats is to stop the overall subscriber hemorrhage many magazines and newspapers are experiencing by moving readers to a paid digital edition (as opposed to a free digital edition or another source entirely). Subscriber bleed from print to apps and digital editions isn’t a “problem.” It’s a sign that things are headed in the right direction. In the next few years, audiences will continue to abandon print media, that much is certain. Better that efforts to bring those publications into the age of mobile computing recapture portions of that audience then that they disappear altogether.

What do you think? Do you maintain subscriptions to both print and online editions of newspapers and other periodicals, and if so, why?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):



Darrell –

Actually, I am surprised. Not that apps ‘could’ hurt print sales, but that they have, as Murdoch asserts. There are only 8 million iPads sold so far and more than a billion daily newspaper readers. So, I would like to see some numbers from News Corp before believing it.


James Murdoch is not the brightest star in the Murdoch family to be fair. He’s an idiot in my view, even making such wild comments that news should be profitable. Let’s hear that again… news profitable. If news is all about profits, how the hell will we ever get a “fair and balanced news”? If its all about profits, then whatever news sells the most will make it to the news stands and that is likely to be Paris Hilton’s next big date rather than the plight of starving in Africa. James Murdoch has a lot to learn about social acceptability over corporate profits – the guy is an idiot.


I’ve been waiting for the demise of print newspapers for some time now. My generation is one of the last to have grown up exclusively with newspapers (well, radio and TV too but that’s a different story) and it’s been a long time coming.

It makes a lot of sense…like Danny mentioned…with just about everyone under 60 owning a cell phone and a large number of of people between 20 and 40 owning smartphones of some kind (depending on the demographic of course), it just makes sense. Before you’d have to have a laptop and a cell card if you were sitting on a bus or a train.

The final nail in the coffin will be when some provider is able to dole out $20 smartphones with 3/4G access for under $30/mo. At that point, even those without a lot of income can climb on board and ditch all those chopped down trees…

By the way, you know that newspaper when compressed in the middle of a landfill will not decompose like people used to think? There was some article I read about people finding a newspaper from the 1950s in a landfill still readable and not at all that delicate to the touch. Of course, when the grids start to sputter out, we’re screwed. :)


News today is immediate. I personally still like picking up a Sunday paper and reading it. With digital media its constantly turning over so there is a chance that you’ll miss other interesting stories as it revolves quickly through new content being added.

It will take a few generations to fully flush out the desire for printed papers, its like books, books offer so much more to a digital version. Its ok, if its a business paper or some other factual piece but you can’t beat picking up a book, with nothing to distract you and flicking the page over, the feel and even smell of a book is priceless. I hope print books never disappear.

If everything is digitised, it will be interesting to learn what will happen if there is a sudden loss of data through a natural event that wipes it out.


Don’t get me wrong. I hear you about how nice a print book is. I used to smell the interior binding of the book, that smell of fresh paper, ink, and glue. Something nice about it…but…I also grew up with books.

Thinking back just a few years ago when you couldn’t do a Google search to find out where this one quote you saw came from or to find more information about a particular topic (I still remember microfiche, ugh).

But then I also think about the number of trees that need to be cut down to print a best seller (not a lot of post-recycled books out there) and how many of those books won’t end up on a library shelf but will end up in a landfill (or if we’re lucky a recycle bin). Just drives me nuts.

Electronics aren’t “cleaner” but you can use one for several years and cut out a huge amount of paper and other byproducts.

Going back to newspapers, the other problem there is the business model. It’s based on a model that isn’t 100% inline with the Internet. Granted, people are starting to get used to paid content (look at GigaOm Pro) but there’s still a lot of free content out there. I guess unless the newspapers and other news sources either collude or combine into a network/union that essentially gives people no choice but to pay for full access, gating content that way will never really work for them. They could try the “pro” thing but they have to have something compelling enough to drive enough people to pay extra for that. Then again, WSJ seems to be doing fine with their subscription model (though I haven’t seen their financials so…).


Makes sense. People used to read newspapers or the subway etc.. now can read stuff on mobile apps.


Try “Cannibalize”.
Jeez, another school dropout trying to be a “journalist”.

Tim Taylor

He was probably using real English.
It must be said that the British dialogue is by far my favourite, it’s varied colour and dark humour a true realisation of honour amongst other languages.

Freek te Water

@timtaylor nuff said ;) @monitor Perhaps you should broaden your views: most Europeans (we of the Old World) speak and write real English as well, didn’t you notice..?


It’s ‘cannabalise’ in the rest of the English-speaking world. Try learning English-English.


I guess they better sell through Apps so they can be the cannibals instead of the stew.

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