Nowadays you always hear about the bad economic situation for the traditional media. Nevertheless, I read an article from Douglas Ahlers who is very optimistic. So he has a kind of a new approach to this topic. Ahlers teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School and helped design and build the first online shopping sites and the first online travel site. First of all, Ahlers pointed out that many seeing the Internet as a threat to network news television and to newspapers because the Internet could substitute these kinds of media. Statistics shows us an undeniable decline of readers in newspapers and viewers on network television news. Another fact is: It is cheaper to produce for the Internet than for television or newspapers. The online media has zero costs for additional copies and also zero costs for distribution. For newspapers printing and delivery costs represent 30 to 40 percent of the total operation costs.

But the situation is not as bad as it seems. Ahlers refers in his article to Frank Magid who made a customer market segmentation analysis for the Online Publishers Association. For his analysis, he also did a survey. The survey figured out that 49 percent of the online news consumers do not care whether they get the information offline or online. 69 percent of them said that the only advantage of online media is to find things faster.

So Ahlers concludes that many users use both: online and offline media. In his opinion the concept of single media use is fading. Today we are using two or more media at the same time – we can summarize that as multitasking, or we use different media at different times during the day – we can summarize that as multichannel use. Therefore we should not understand online media as a substitute but more as a complement. Ahlers’ conclusion is underpinned through Frank Magids survey. 29 percent of the sample saying that they are only using online media but 51% saying they are using both, online and offline media and 21% saying they are using occasional or never online media. That is the reason why the traditional media will not disappear even if it will not be so much important as before the Internet.

In my opinion this is a reasonable approach. I would like to add an argument to this discussion. Riepl’s law is a hypothesis formulated by Wolfgang Riepl in 1913. Riepl is well known in german speaking countries. He stated that new types of media never replace existing modes of media when they are already good enough embedded in society. But the new media can force the existing one to search for new functions in society. For example, the Gutenberg press replaced the hand written book in the function of distributing information. Nevertheless the hand written book didn’t die out but since then it was mainly used as an art work. Even if  Riepl’s law is not high accurately, I think it gives a good idea for the future. Newspapers will probably not disappear but it is uncertain how and for what we will use it.


AHLERS, Douglas: News Consumption and the New Electronic Media