why newspaper content windowing vanished

Newspaper publishers in New York State in 1855 commonly windowed their newspaper content across daily, semi-weekly, and weekly issues.  For example, the New York Evening Post began daily publication about 1802.  In 1855, that newspaper had become three products: The Evening Post, the Semi-Weekly Evening Post, and the Weekly Evening Post, with subscriptions prices $10, $3, and $2 per year, respectively.[*]  For a daily newspaper, being a morning or evening issue is highly relevant.  The name “Weekly Evening Post” reflects the historical legacy of a daily newspaper giving birth to a weekly newspaper.  Providing three newspaper products was a way to segment the newspaper market by spending propensity and demand for newness in news.

U.S. newspapers today offer subscription options, but not content windowing.  Sunday-only, weekday-only, and daily subscriptions aren’t separate newspapers.  Both the Sunday-only and daily subscribers get the same product on Sunday.

Changes in newspapers’ cost and revenue structures and the growth of other communications networks plausibly account for the vanishing of newspaper content windowing.  While good data are lacking, newspapers cost structure has almost surely shifted away from per-copy production and distribution costs and toward reporting, administrative, and management costs.  On the revenue side, advertising revenue as a share of newspaper revenue rose from 49% to 78% from 1880 to 2008.  Advertising revenue was probably much less than 49% of newspaper revenue in 1855.  These changes in costs and revenue structures gave newspaper companies greater incentive to deliver newspapers to readers even when readers value the newspaper relatively low.  In addition, the growth of other communications networks (radio, television, the Internet) makes news lose news value more rapidly over time.  Content windowing for general news is no longer a feasible newspaper business strategy.

The history of newspaper content windowing suggests underlying economics could close entertainment video windowing.  Production and distribution costs for video are decreasing.  Revenue for video producers is shifting from subscriptions and sales to advertising.  The growth of communications networks are generating faster and more transient peaks in mass attention.  Even if, through content controls, rights management, and police action, video producers could prevent others from sharing or marketing video across content windows, content windowing might become an infeasible business strategy.

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[*] See the table “Newspapers and Other Periodicals Published in New-York in 1855“, New York State Census of 1855, pp. 480-497.  That table includes many other examples of windowed newspapers.

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