Like with radio in 1920s, audience's use of media maturing in Internet Era (good news for print)


“In Budapest there is a newspaper that has no printing presses. ... It is a large and flourishing newspaper and, as far as I know, all its subscribers are satisfied. It has never been 'scooped,' and there is little likelihood that such a catastrophe will soon happen.” Homer Croy wrote those words in 1922 in an article describing a new technology called radio.

Reading that piece gives me renewed optimism for newspapers in 2011 and beyond.

In my last INMA blog, I said that newspapers were competing with chocolate bars and that we could learn from FMCG marketers. I think we can also take lessons from radio.

Let's face it; the past two years have been difficult. Banks collapsed, “unsinkable” businesses went into bankruptcy, and governments defaulted on loans.

We also saw newspaper circulation and readership numbers fall. The loudest voices on media were heralding the demise of newspapers all together. “Why buy a newspaper when you can get all your news online?” they said. Of course, the decline in newspaper circulations began prior to the global financial crisis, as a result of fundamental changes in the way people were using media. The continued growth of the internet saw more and more people getting their news and entertainment online. And recently new tablet devices have presented another way for people to get their news. We have not seen such a dramatic adoption of new technology since ... well, since radio.

A recent study in Australia compared consumers' attitudes toward major media and their use of those media. It was a repeat of the same study conducted two years earlier. There were major (and some will say surprising) shifts over the two years.

Consumers were asked which medium shapes the important issues of the day, which provides an enriching experience, which is most engaging, which is better respected and (perhaps the most important question relating to newspapers' future viability) which has ads that most influence buying decisions.

To each of those questions, the internet dropped and newspapers (yes, printed newspapers) increased! Isn't this completely opposite of the perceived trend?

So, what is happening? Is the public abandoning the internet and retreating to print habits established over generations? No, they are not.

Rather, we are seeing a maturing of the audience's use of media; the very same thing that happened in the 1920s. With the advent of radio, observers wondered how newspapers would survive. After all, why read news when you can hear it almost instantly? But the audience modified their media repertoire and adopted the new media into their lives as appropriate. Radio thrived, but newspapers changed and took a new, modernised and relevant position in people's lives.

This is reason for optimism, but not complacency. In order to keep a place in people's media schedules we must become “newly relevant.” Our products and marketing have to adjust to the new environment. If we do, history says we can win a valuable audience and advertisers and a future.

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