The fact that Warren Buffett thinks the outlook for newspapers is poor is not particularly interesting—so does everyone else. But according to Megan McArdle, the precise way he put the point at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting was this:
Most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy at any price. They have the possibility of unending losses. 30 years ago, they were an essential business if you wanted to learn sports scores, news, etc. They were only essential to the advertiser as long as they were essential to the reader. That’s changing, it’s changing every day. And I do not see anything on the horizon that’s changing.
Bleak! But wait a minute. “Most” newspapers he wouldn’t buy at any price. But which newspapers would he buy? My guess is that the vast majority of newspapers currently operating in the United States will go out of business. But one or two will survive and become more profitable than ever as truly global digital media companies. Currently, The New York Times is burdened with a lot of debt and (of course) is losing money. But it seems to me that if it was owned by a firm with deep pockets, that was willing to keep losing money on putting out a quality product for long enough to ride out the recession and the collapse of most other big city dailies, would have an enormously valuable company in five or ten years.