Friday, July 29, 2005

Do we need Newspapers anymore?

Is the era of the print newspaper over? Subscription numbers are steadily declining, and the biggest publishers are bleeding the most. Most cities worldwide have one or two major newspapers, and all are feeling the pinch.

The world's largest newspaper by circulation is now the Times of India, with over 2.4 million copies sold every day. This too, masks a change in how people get, and consume their news. Is the Masthead of the World now Google News, a post-9/11 creation?

Source: Editor and Publisher Yearbook data

Newspapers may be forced to adopt the approach of magazines in narrowing their focus, rather than the one-size-fits-all broadsheet approach. This might mean demographically focused papers, and smaller, faster editions.

Newspaper publishers are feeling a pinch both in terms of declining subscription revenues, and declining advertising revenues. They have blamed everything from the Do-Not-Call list to decline in a general reading habit. Although in total value, the advertising numbers have not much changed, their rate of growth is far below the desired.

Early techniques to boost circulation, like contests and giveaways have all but disappeared. Channel stuffing technique such as dropping more copies on doorsteps than actual subscribers, and fabricated circulation figures may mask a problem greater than it appears. The Audit Bureau also changed the way it counts circulation, including bulk free copies given to airlines, hotels, etc.

The quality of journalism is not much in question, at least for me. I find some of the finest columnists in the world's leading newspapers, although I read almost all of them online, rather than in print (Note: I subscribe to the NY Times Sunday edition only). At the same time, the web seems more effective at disseminating information, and the major newspapers do not seem to 'break' as many stories as they did. Not all web versions do well - and have both suffered, although perhaps for different reasons.

From a price standpoint, in an era whether the cost per bit is essentially zero, it is difficult for newspapers to justify charging what they do. This is a different topic however, and price cutting will likely not provide much succor.

Countries, like India have found growth in newspaper circulation has a close relationship with literacy levels.

What can newspapers do?
  • Go gentle into the night

  • Do not go gentle into the night - rage, rage against the dying of the light

  • Cut prices, and targets

  • Expand into new markets

  • Consolidate or cannibalize

  • Go all-electronic, and charge

  • Create niche editions

  • Start a war

Excellent information on American newspaper circulation at State Of the News Media

Also, India's National Readership Survey 2005 has counter-poised information
  • The reach of the press medium (dailies and magazines combined) has increased from 179 million to 200 million in the last three years

  • Literacy has risen from 62.5% to 70.6%. The rise has been more in rural areas than in urban India.

  • Dailies have driven this growth in the press medium, their reach rising from 23% to 24%. Magazines have declined in reach from 13% to 10%over the last three years.

  • Satellite TV has grown explosively in reach – from 134 million individuals watching in an average week in 2002 to as many as 190 million individuals in 2005 – almost catching up with the number of readers.

  • The time spent reading has gone up quite significantly though – from 30 minutes daily on an average to 39 minutes per day over the last three years.

  • Radio’s reach has stagnated at 23% of the population listening to any station in the average week.

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