Pulling newspapers from shelves puts “probable survivors” at risk

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson recently warned the global media industry will be divided “into potential global winners, probable survivors, and the rest.” He noted the British newspapers were not likely to be included in global winners, as they are “still too print-centric.”

It is hard to say if he is right, but there is certainly one thing that adds to the newspaper industry’s worries: Visibility of printed newspapers is weakening as supermarkets, airlines, and coffee chains remove them from their shelves. This move is concerning especially for those “probable survivors” or “the rest” as newspapers disappear from public places. When something is out of sight, it is out of mind, or so the saying goes.

People are still interested in printed newspapers, but making them inaccessible to potential buyers makes them particularly vulnerable.
People are still interested in printed newspapers, but making them inaccessible to potential buyers makes them particularly vulnerable.

I remember strolling to my local supermarket in London in the 2000s and buying Sunday newspapers, which were so full of supplements that it took a day or two to go through the newspapers. Now PressGazette reports German supermarket chain Aldi is the latest company to remove print newspapers from its shops. The supermarket chain is the fifth largest in the United Kingdom and operates in 17 countries.

Earlier, Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the United States, decided to remove print newspapers and magazines from its nationwide stores. According to Editor and Publisher, the “grocery giant has been relatively silent on the issue, stymying publishers who rely on the grocer for as much as 25% of their circulation.” Additionally, Starbucks has already stopped selling newspapers in its coffee shops in the United States, but it offers its customers free Wi-Fi access to certain newspapers.

Airlines have also ditched print newspapers for various reasons. A while back, New Zealand’s national carrier, Air New Zealand, removed print newspapers from its Koru lounges for “sustainability” reasons. British Airways has also stopped handing the Financial Times to its customers.

I am afraid the list of the examples may go on and on, but I have no idea how badly these moves dent print newspaper sales and circulation. In 2018, weekday print circulation of American newspapers declined 12% and Sunday newspapers declined 13%.

Stuff Limited chief executive Sinead Boucher was unhappy about the Air New Zealand decision:“We were also really concerned that the message to their customers in the lounges said the decision was linked to sustainability and that therefore the extrapolation is that our papers must be bad for the environment.” Stuff Limited publishes multiple newspapers in New Zealand, including The Dominion Post and The Press.

She added: “Newspapers are an important medium for us as a business and for our customers. Sixty-six percent of New Zealanders read one a week.”

So, people still read print newspapers. The latest figures from Australia show almost 7 million (34%) Australians read the listed print newspapers. Overall, almost 16 million Australians read the news in print or online.

Print newspaper readership is also high in other markets such as India. According to the India Readership Survey, “around 16 million readers have been added for printed newspapers and 7.8 million have been added for magazines” between its two latest surveys. Approximately 425 million Indians read newspapers.

Varghese Chandy, vice president of marketing and ad sales at Malayala Manorama Co. Ltd. commented, “There’s a popular perception being created that newspapers are dying, but national brands are still being created on printed newspapers.”

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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