In an interview on CNBC yesterday, Sam Zell did nothing to alleviate anxiety over the future of the print industry. The chairman and former CEO of the bankrupt Tribune Co. proposed that survival of the printed newspaper rests on the “elimination of home delivery and the replacement of it by PDF’s.”
The assertion seemed to be his own response to questions he indirectly posed during the interview about the direction of the newspaper industry. After making excuses for his company’s inability to emerge from bankruptcy — “All bankruptcy scenarios are difficult,” he said — Zell addressed the industry itself: “There’s a lot of questions because the severity of the downturn in the media business in the beginning of ’08 kind of changed the calculus and raises the whole question to any potential investor as to what’s the future, and how is the media and particularly the newspaper side of the business going to change in the future.”
Zell’s proposal revealed little hope for the industry, though this sense of resignation is hardly surprising considering the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings that have left his own newspapers (the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant and others) in shambles. And despite Zell’s depressing outlook, he did seem to offer an alternate delivery system: “The iPad is certainly the first real example of almost replicating a newspaper on an instrument,” he said.
Kind of like how his company “almost” emerged from bankruptcy last spring.