Addicted to novelty since 2001

How Worried Should Newspapers Be?

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
    NAA
    ).
  • The Online Publishers Association (as biased, no doubt, as the NAA) ran
    a
    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
    percent)."

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.

14 Responses to “How Worried Should Newspapers Be?”

  1. Andrea

    I used to subscribe to The Sun, and often purchased The Globe. But then I decided it was more effective to find a coffee shop with a good selection of newspapers….Now I buy a paper about twice per month, although my coffee budget has grown!

  2. Rog

    I haven’t bought a newspaper in over a decade. Personally I think we absorb enough sensationalist “news” through our daily media assault surrounding us without having to dig through awkward newsprint.

  3. alexis

    My roommate and I subscribe to the Sun, and I buy the Globe every weekend. I would read more of the Globe, but it’s so Toronto and financial centric. I also have a bad time justifying newspaper reading if it’s only me reading the newspaper. I got the Sun because my roommate and I share it. I feel bad about the environmental damage from just one person reading the newspaper. I usually give my copy of the Globe to my boyfriend to read after I’m done with it.

    I also think that websites that require you to be a subscriber to read the paper online are hurting the future of their paper.

  4. 'nee

    Newspapers need to follow the magazine model: purchasing cost of the media actually only cover printing and distribution; revenue is generated through ads. It’s tempting to look at the cost of hosting a paper and tech database maintenance as “distribution,” but the Internet doesn’t work that way.

    I also can’t stick a toonie through my screen for them, and it’s not worth giving them my VISA number for that miniscule cost. They don’t realize that nobody will pay $15 for a month’s subscription because even if newspaper reading is habitual, it’s not actually planned. We’d rather pay a few bucks at a newstand to have it when we want it – the same goes for the Internet, but that payment model doesn’t hold up online.

    Newspapers need to make daily content free, and use something like AdSense for revenue, like the rest of the world.

  5. 'nee

    … in fact, I can even see an About.com model where content is linked to within articles themselves. Newepapers are tailor made for “further information” links embedded in stories themselves, generating revenue. Unfortunately some work needs to go into tracking that: if a movie theatre gets a click from The Star and that person buys two tickets for a show, a percentage could go to the paper. The tracking ability is there, it’s just not as fully fleshed-out as it needs to be.

  6. heather

    I don’t think I could give up my paper copy, though. I read the NY Times online only because I couldn’t afford to buy it. But I like to have my Globe and Mail in my hands, or catching vegetable peelings in the sink.

  7. Abject Learning

    Personal inforfmation processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occured to me as I read the following piece in Wired about the impending decline of the newspaper as a single source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — th…

  8. Abject Learning

    Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occured to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make …

  9. Abject Learning

    Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occured to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make …

  10. Abject Learning

    Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occured to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make …

  11. Abject Learning

    Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occured to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make …

  12. Abject Learning

    Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

    A couple thoughts occurred to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news: From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make…

  13. Newsjunkie

    Vancouver Sun could be termed mediocre at best and in many cases they let their pro-conservative bias slip through, Its sad that Vancouver doesn’t have a neutral or reputable broadsheet publication. If i am going to get the same garbage from the Sun i might as well switch to the National Pest errr post…at least they don’t hide where they are coming form.

  14. Jason Peacock

    The Vancouver Sun does a pretty good job of promoting progressive compassion of serving abortion demands, criminal rights, and other important rights for our liberal cultural lifestyle. Occasionally, however, an accidental fart of pro-business sentiment may erupt. But all things considered, the Vancouver Sun is as wonderfully left-wing as one could reasonably expect

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