An obituary before its time: newspapers here to stay but will be different


In Trends in the Living Networks, Ross Dawson was very clear: newspapers are not only dying but in Canada they will be extinct in 2020. Time to polish up our resumes?

I am pleased to join the INMA blog team and be a part of the discussion about newspapers and how our industry is growing and changing. At NADbank we conduct readership research for the daily newspapers in Canada. We are a key source of information not just for the newspapers but also their customers. Based on what we see today, as Samuel Clemens said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In fairness to Dawson, he says “newspapers in their current form will be irrelevant.” But that is the point. Newspapers are changing in step with their readers and the media landscape. However, the prognosticators don't seem to talk as much about that — death and extinction make great copy! Perhaps newspapers have to change the headlines.

In Canada, print readership is stable, and online readership is increasing. Readership varies by newspaper, but nearly eight out 10 of Canadians read a daily newspaper in print or online each week. Newspapers continue to be a valuable source for news and entertainment for Canadians. The Top 8 markets all support six newspapers: a broadsheet, a tabloid, two national newspapers and two free dailies. Each have printed and online products.

Perhaps it is the name that is anachronistic. It's hard to call them news“papers” anymore. On average 22% of adults read their newspaper online, via mobile devises, PCs and tablets. And the internet, which was to be the death knell for newspapers, has had the opposite impact. In the internet world where information is everywhere and not all of it credible, newspapers stand out as trusted sources for news.

Newspapers are well established and “comfortable” brands providing around-the-clock, everywhere news sources. Newspapers are now news media organisations, distributing content via a number of distribution channels. Multi-platform newspapers encourage readers to migrate between channels. Those who read online editions are more likely to read a printed newspaper (over five weekday issues each week) compared to those who read only the printed edition (average four weekday issues).

Today's newspapers reach their readers through the printed word and through photographs and videos. They are using the internet along with newsprint as a distribution channel and developing applications for consumers to access their content easily and on their own time. They are no longer defined by their method of distribution but by their content, its presentation and value.

How do newspapers convey the message that they are changing? We still see revenues reported for print only to demonstrate the health of the industry while the online revenues often end up in a big bucket for internet advertising. Why? Is it about the distribution channel or the news organisation? The same applies to research. Readership and/or circulation for the printed edition but few tools to promote the reach of the entire brand. Sales are moving to an integrated model but buyers often work in silos that deal with online properties separately from the printed product.

Newspapers are healthy and building their businesses to maintain their relevance beyond the next decade; different distribution channels for different people, times and locations. Perhaps there should be a new headline: “Newspapers are here to stay but they will be different.” But I expect to read my printed edition every morning for the next 30 years.

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