Does digital mean the death of the newspaper?

By Diane Stickland on 5th August 2019

Intro

The word on the street is ‘print is dying’, however, many disagree, so I am going to explore the truth in this statement and whether we will eventually lose the black on white method to deliver information.

For over 300 years, newspapers and magazines have delivered our news on paper, in fact the first newspaper, as we know it, was printed in 1605 in Belgium with the title ‘Relation’.  Although it could be argued that the Romans can really claim this title with their ‘Acta Diurna’, which was published as far back as 59 BC.

Information in the digital world

The internet, and in particular, social media dominates what we see in today’s society and, for many, is now the primary way we learn about what is going on around us. I make no secret of indulging in various social media platforms, in fact, I regularly post photos of my life on both Instagram and Facebook, and equally enjoy seeing what everyone else has been doing.  Whilst skimming my feeds I also catch up on international and local news but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decipher fact from fiction.

What I do object to is the amount of information that works its way into my feed that I haven’t subscribed to. Every second or third post is a link or video to something Facebook believes I’ll be interested in, even though it doesn’t know me, or my interests, at all…or does it? (this is another story in itself!)  But it seems I can do little about it, so I ignore it or sometimes I succumb to the catchy title and have a peek at the content…which then flashes up intriguing images of other stories, luring me deeper and deeper into the web, and indeed the world of ‘fake news.’

These ‘stories’, as we know, are mostly inaccurate. Headlines to pique the reader’s interest, with the outcome being an advert, often claiming to have found ‘the’ diet pill or miracle eternal youth cream. Many online news sources are notoriously bad at embellishing the truth, with a ream of incorrect facts, which makes it difficult for the reader to determine what is true and what is factually incorrect nonsense? In contrast, printed publications are generally favoured as our trusted sources of news, although the daily tabloids are known to sensationalise news and often slated for inaccurate and unethical reporting.  Quality publications, known as broadsheets, offer one of the most bona fide routes to world news, and their journalists are respected and commended for their literary excellence.

However, in the digital age, many of these publishers are struggling to remain relevant and to get readers to pay for their online news content. The Financial Times reported a decline in sales of more than a third in the UK and 50% in the US. Many publications have introduced paywalls which hasn’t proved entirely successful either. When the internet is awash with news it’s all too easy for people to click away when confronted with a screen asking them to dip into their pocket to continue reading.

The shift to digital channels has also had an impact not only on the newspaper’s reach but also their influence. There’s an interesting study by Neil Thurman and Richard Fletcher looking at what happened to the Independent which, after 30 years in print, went online-only in 2016.  The Independent had a paid print circulation of about 40,000 which looks minuscule when compared to its 58 million monthly digital hits, however, the research showed that the print readers were responsible for about 81% of all time spent consuming Independent content whilst the digital platforms account for only 19%.  The print readers didn’t consume the Independent’s content in the same way online where their attention can easily be diverted elsewhere. The report revealed that online readers spend an average of six minutes a month reading the Independent’s content whilst print readers would have spent on average 50 minutes every day reading their daily papers. As one of the authors of the report quoted “By going online-only, The Independent has decimated the attention it receives. The paper is now a thing more glanced at, it seems, than gorged on. It has sustainability but less centrality.”

As much as newspapers are reportedly on the decline, magazines are also taking a thrashing in sales, thanks to companies spending billions of pounds on online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram to get their message across. It was reported last year that popular magazines such as Vogue dropped sales by five percent and Glamour by 11 percent. Fashion is a big visual in magazines, and high-end brands showcased on glossy pages look very enticing to the reader – it’s the same with beauty products like hair, makeup, and perfume –we are happy to glance through the pages of a magazine at our leisure. This notable decline has obviously had a huge impact on some publications, with more than 50 magazines over the last year ceasing to operate, in fact, the figure has decreased by 200 since 2008. This is due to companies switching to online advertising, as readers have become less interested in magazines, particularly lifestyle and entertainment productions, preferring to digest their content online.  Interestingly, the statistics have shown a sizeable increase in technology magazines!

Whilst it may not be the most popular avenue to the news these days, it would be a terrible shame to lose newspapers and indeed magazines altogether to various technological gadgets like the smartphone or tablet. Personally, I love nothing more than relaxing with a magazine and falling into the world of the rich and famous, glimpsing inside their homes and exotic lifestyles. A visit to the hairdresser wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have the chance to relax with two or three magazines, and even the check-up at the dentist is almost bearable as they have a healthy stack of printed paper covering every genre.  Equally, there are a few of us who still enjoy reading the latest scoop from our favourite daily tabloid, on paper rather than a screen, during our morning coffee break.

Conclusion

So, is printed news dying? No, but it is being forced to evolve as it faces change on a huge scale. Newspapers and publications around the world are being challenged to stay relevant whilst making a profit at the same time. However, we have to look at success cases like The London Gazette, which was first introduced in 1665 and is still going strong. So let’s continue to read the information the way we want to, either online or offline – personally, I hope printed news isn’t going anywhere soon.