newspaper apocalypse

December 17, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Monday morning’s paper told me the world is gonna end
I don’t need time to gather up my friends cause I haven’t any
Things I read the things I hear, it all seems so incredible
You’d think by now I’d learn my lesson

If you read the press, online or print, you already believe that newspaper and print publishing is all but dead. Is this industry self-fulfilling itself into oblivion?

According to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in its annual world press trends update, at no time in the foreseeable future will digital advertising revenues replace those lost to print, making the search for new business models, including paid-for online access for news, a pressing concern for the news publishing industry.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

The circulation drop in Europe, for example, is less than 3% over five years. In fact, according to Timothy Balding, co-CEO of WAN-IFRA, “The survey showed that newspaper circulation grew, on a global scale, by 1.3% in 2008, the last full year for which data exists, and almost 9% over five years. The data shows consistent newspaper growth in Africa, Asia and South America, a long-term slowdown in the US and European markets. Over five years, according to our survey, newspaper circulation increased in 100 of the 182 nations for which we have reliable data.” And, “…newspaper companies in the ‘old’ markets have embraced digital platforms and new forms of print publishing and, in doing so, have actually grown their audience reach and revenues, even while their print circulations have come under pressure,” Mr Balding observed.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Some of the highlights from the update:

  • Globally, 1.9 billion people choose to read a newspaper every day, or 34% of the world population, while 24% use the internet.
  • The biggest newspaper market in the world is India, with 107 million daily sales. India, China and Japan account for more than 60% of the world’s newspaper sales, with the USA taking 14%.
  • In terms of sales per 1,000 adult population, Japan leads the world with 612, followed by Norway with 576, and Finland with 482. In terms of reach, 91% of Japanese continue to read a newspaper daily, remarkable in such a technologically advanced and wired society.
  • Advertising revenues fell an estimated 20% in North America, 19% in eastern Europe, 16% in western Europe, and 11% in the Asia-Pacific in 2009, according to PwC.
  • The US market has been hardest hit, with advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2009 falling nearly 29% in print and nearly 17% on digital platforms over the same quarter in 2008. But revenue declines mirror declines in other industries. Take a look at this map which charts US press layoffs in 2009.

So where is the money, that was originally spent on print, now going?

Why has the US been hardest hit? Why the difference? Have we over-embraced digital gadgetry while the rest of the world still believes that newspaper is the best medium for wrapping physical content? Or, is it simply that internationally, content is not re-purposed to the degree that it is in these newer economies?

I think it is the latter. One of the promises of digital content was the dream of re-purposing. Of re-using and re-monetizing already created content, about making more money. If I have a selection of news feeds, then do I need as many journalists? But if those news feeds are also aggregated by other sources, websites and search engines, then how competitive is my print version? If news generation is trustworthy, sourced and verified, and adds value to a reader’s daily experience of life, then it has value, and it will be compensated. If that information is ‘commonplace’ and can be sourced anywhere, then why would a reader pay?

I think that’s what the US newspaper industry has forgotten. They have come under the spell of economic rationalists, and have handed their golden goose over to the bean counters who obey only the Golden Rule*. And those bean counters are now trying their hand at growing the beans instead of counting them…

Find your readers, listen to them, create relevant content and remember that not everybody has e-ink yet.

There is a place for incisive relevant analysis… I believe. Or, perhaps as a society gets more affluent it necessarily evolves into a faster paced era of 30s news bites, headlines and tweets. Perhaps understanding detail is too much work, work which affluence abhors. Maybe we’re just glimpsing humanity’s new gestalt and this trend is simply reflecting emerging cultural expectations and communications patterns.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*The Golden Rule in accounting speak is “He who controls the gold, makes the rules”.

Entry filed under: Media, Technology. Tags: , , , .

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