I recently read this Wired article about the declining fortunes of newspapers. Now, Wired is the sort of place you’d expect to read about the death of the Old Media, and the article isn’t particularly long on facts. I went set off in search of some facts to disprove the hypothesis that that newspapers are dying off. Here’s what I came up with:
- If anybody’s going to have positive news on newspapers, it’s going to be
the Newspaper Association of
America. They released a
study which indicated that readership was "remaining steady"
in major American markets. Unfortunately, their press release only offers
some encouraging percentages and underwhelming anecdotes about circulation
(The Tifton Gazette’s
circulation is up 3%! Of course, it’s circulation is 9000. Ouch).
- Here’s a promising release from Australia. It claims that "the majority
of publications have seen an increase in readers in both percentage terms
and in the total numbers of people". Again, they don’t provide any hard
numbers on the amount of growth.
- In Finland, Gallup Oy (heh) reports
that "newspaper readerships have grown by some 5% in the course of the
two years under comparison". They go on to explain that the majority
of growth is in the over-50s demographic. Own newspaper enjoyed growth of
3.9% (hurray for hard numbers) over six months.
- The Hindu, a national Indian paper, offers
that "newspaper readership has grown by 20% in the country, from 131
million in 1999 to 156 million in 2002". That’s impressive, and exceeds
the remarkable literacy growth rate of 7%. This isn’t particularly surprising
in a developing nation like India–the wealthier people are, the likelier
they are to read the paper.
That might be encouraging to newspaper publishers. Then I checked out the flip
side of the coin:
- In 1970, 77.6% of Americans read the paper. By 2003, that number has dropped
to 54.1% (stats from the
NAA). The growing
American population has cushioned that reduction, so the actual readership
has only gone from about 160 million to 148 million (a 7.5% decrease).
- In 2004, 71% of people over 65 read the paper daily. For 18 to 24-year-olds,
that number drops to 40%. (again from the
- The Online Publishers Association (as biased, no doubt, as the NAA) ran
study (PDF), quoted in the Wired article, that found "18-
to 34-year-olds are far more apt to log on to the Internet (46 percent) than
watch TV (35 percent), read a book (7 percent), turn on a radio (3 percent),
read a newspaper (also 3 percent) or flip through a magazine (less than 1
Should newspapers be worried? Absolutely. Actually, newspaper publishers and
the people involved in the actual printing of newspapers should be most concerned.
The world is producing more content than ever, and there will always be a demand
for skilled writers and editors. With the emergence of tablet PCs and digital
paper, I could see more newspapers moving to a totally online model. Of course,
their track record online has been pretty dismal. With rare exceptions, they’ve
done a remarkable job of discouraging that most-desired 18-35-year-old demographic
from reading them, online or off.
Roland is fond
of saying that he’s the only person he knows under 40 who subscribes to The
Globe and Mail. That’s nearly the case for me and the Vancouver Sun.
I’m actually considering switching to the Globe, but even then I can’t
see myself as a subscriber for the rest of my life. Newspapers better get busy
ingratiating themselves to the online generation (at the least, emulate what
the Guardian has done),
or they’re going to be consigned to history by 2050.