The recession, combined with the long-term shift to internet-based media struck a king-hit to US newspapers over the last year. Circulation fell 10.9%. There is now just one newspaper produced per day for every ten Americans (produced, not sold, many are given away). In the UK, things were slightly better but the drop was still 3.9% on a year ago – hardly a positive state of affairs. I’ve compiled the circulation numbers for New Zealand from the Audit Bureau of Circulations and they’re interesting reading.
The big three dailies have really suffered. Between them the Dompost, the Press, and Granny Herald lost 5% of their circulation in the year to June on top of a similar loss the year before.
The Herald’s circulation has crashed by 11%, 21,000 copies, since March 2007 – over that time it has been reducing its printing run by nearly 800 papers per month. It lost 7% in the last year alone – perhaps its flagrantly pro-National editorial stance drove some readers away too.
The weekend papers are also in trouble. The Herald on Sunday has held up OK but the Sunday News lost nearly 18% of its circulation in the last 15 months. The Sunday-Star Times lost 6% over the same period (and they’re giving them away, you can now get one free with your Burger King in some places).
What’s interesting is that the regional papers have held up comparatively well, only losing a couple of percent over the last few years. There’s probably several explanations – lower internet use in the provinces, worse internet sites – but I think the pivotal one is lack of competition. The local papers remain the best source of local news, whereas the national papers have to compete with other nationals plus the plethora of websites focused on politics and other issues at a national level.
Which gets me to my point. On RNZ yesterday Geoff and Sean had to leave the studio for a fire-alarm and they put on the BBC while they were out. A man was being interviewed about the transformation of media. He referred to broadcasters who try to cover everything as ‘legacy media’ from a time when the relatively few and expensive means of mass communication made such an approach advantageous. But now, he said, the game has changed. Successful media of the future will provide what they excel at and “link to the rest”.
So what do you reckon? Narrow-cast media outlets, focused on one type of information or news but consciously and actively part of a community of other outlets with their own specialties – does it sound like the way of the future to you?