Newspaper - the great survivor
The death knell of the newspaper has been anticipated many times before, but they keep bouncing back.
Reports of the death of the newspaper have been greatly exaggerated. Expectations that the Internet would kill print media have not yet materialised. A combination of bloggers disseminating news faster, existing papers allowing free online access to their editorial and the flight of advertisers to the web has not been enough to finish off the traditional media. A recent study in the US has found that people who read their news online also read the print editions of those newspapers. These “crossover” users made up the largest segment of those surveyed by the Newspaper National Network. Those who read both formats make up 81 per cent of the poll. The study also showed that they do not spend less time on each. In fact, 35 per cent actually increased their time spent reading the news by combining the print and online sources of information.
Estimates for 2007 show an increase of 2 per cent in global newspaper circulation as well as a growth in the number of newspapers being published. More than 1.4 billion people now read a paper daily, many of them young commuters who read the new free-sheets that are becoming common all over the world. The overall rise in circulation belies the fact that in Europe and the US, print circulation is static or falling. Ireland is a good example of a country where increases in income and population far outstrip newspaper sales increases.
A huge number of papers have by necessity embraced the online revolution. The Irish Times claims that in 1994 they were among the first 30 in the world, and the first in Britain and Ireland, to publish on the web. Their website, Ireland.com, shows some of the diversification now engaged in by online papers. Featuring the full range of articles from the printed edition and its own breaking news, it sports an Irish ancestors search, an email service, an Irish Times archive and photosales, as well as the traditional classified sections such as jobs, cars, dating and travel. Classified advertisements have traditionally been a mainstay of income for papers, but the rise of websites devoted specifically to particular topics such as jobs or house sales has depleted this source.
The main national rivals to this website include those of Eircom, the Irish Independent and RTE. In fact, while Ireland.com receives over 17 million page impressions (each viewing of a different page on a website is called an impression) per month, it does not match up to the Eircom and RTE websites, who receive around 24m each. The Irish Times website receives over 1m individual users each month (less than their print circulation of almost 3m), as do RTE and Eircom, indicating that visitors are more active on the latter two sites.
Advertising has always been the lifeblood of the newspaper industry. The ability of an online organisation to precisely monitor its customers' reading patterns is a powerful tool when trying to convince an advertising executive to take out an online ad. In America, print advertising revenue looks set to drop $2bn (€1.4bn) this year according to some analysts. By comparison, online advertising revenue has increased from $1.9bn (€1.4bn) in 1998 to $16.9bn (€12.5bn) in 2006. Last year alone an increase of 35 per cent was seen from 2005. At these growth rates, online advertising revenue in the US will soon reach half the value of the $44bn (€32.6bn) projected print revenue for 2007.
Currently, a print reader is more valuable than an online reader to an advertiser. Estimates on the number of online readers needed to replace a print reader differ wildly, from 10 to 200, but analysts agree that the price of an internet ad is set to rise, bringing it into line with print.
Newspaper bosses can no longer afford to be, as Rupert Murdock said of them, “remarkably, unaccountably complacent” in the face of the new challenges. Being forced to innovate may be exactly what the industry needs to revitalise it. The bloggers, free-sheets and online only news companies are testing new business models everyday. But newspapers have had their backs to the wall before, with the rise of radio and television, and survived to tell the tale. It may be too early to begin funeral arrangements.