As newspapers die, what comes next?

Written By: - Date published: 4:16 pm, November 25th, 2009 - 19 comments
Categories: Media - Tags:

sinkingherald200The 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?

19 comments on “As newspapers die, what comes next?”

  1. I don’t think newspapers will die, if there is a major big story people will still want a copy of something they can hold in their hands.

    Still media outlets will always play to their audience.

    • fizzleplug 1.1

      Especially in the provinces. Manawatu beating Canterbury in 2008 in the NPC? Front page news.

      Can’t frame the internet (well, you could print it, but it’s just not the same). Even if all it is is a collection of tubes.

  2. The thing is – why pay for ill-informed opinion, partisan editorialising and property/business advertorials when you can get all that for free – and with a comments thread – on the internet? The only area of modern NZ newspapers were they seem to still offer a service worth paying for is in the sports sections analysis and comment.

  3. Good post marty 🙂

    I see Murdoch is trying to introduce pay-for-view on line news which could be the start of something as is controlling which search engines can index pages.

    Not only do you have the technological news issues, you have the growth of entertainment as news.

    As you point out, as the connected world shrinks, the national media lose their advantage – I tend to sample around Aus and UK media (as well as my favourite blogs of course :)).

    We’ve canvassed this point in the past but one of the ironies is that the blogs typically rely on the news media as reference points … imagine the Standard without the daily condemnation of the Granny!

    The final point of course is that the newspapers rely on advertising, not news. So long as the advertising works, there will be newspapers (just like fish and chips).

  4. Lanthanide 4

    “There is now just one newspaper produced per day for every ten Americans (produced, not sold, many are given away). ”

    So someone is producing Americans, and they’re given away for free instead of being sold? Where can I sign up?

  5. Lindsey J Rea 5

    I cancelled my subscription to the Herald during its so called “Democracy Under Attack” campaign and I have not advertised with them for a couple of years since they stuffed up a very simple advertisement and did not even have the manners to let me know. I have moved my advertising to Trade Me. I would pay for a good news service online.

  6. I prefer blogs. It is vital that Governments put all of their information on the Internet so you can then sit back and read the informed intelligent analysis of the information by people with particular interests and then read the debates. This is far better than what we had before.

    Like Lindsay I gave up my Herald subscription some time ago. If I want one eyed views and bias I can go to for this.

    • lukas 6.1

      Oh please. Going on about the “media bias” is pathetic. It swings both ways, stop playing the victim card.

  7. Rex Widerstrom 7

    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?

    Lor no, it sounds like I’d used Windows 7’s spiffy new “read aloud” feature on “The Standard” 😀 Or worse, like I’d somehow accidentally tuned to Radio Live while Micael Lhaws was on and then my arms fell off (mind you, I’d still try to change the stantion with my toes, or indeed any other handy appendage).

    In short, a very narrow cast indeed, banging on and on about the same topics. While that can be great for those who are obsessed with the topic if the medium is good (e.g. my first example) and hell on earth if it’s bad, these are things I want to do for only a small part of my day. Thus the advertisers get very little value and the medium gets very little funding and it becomes either a labour of love or topples at the edge of the financial abyss (again, refer my examples above respectively).

    In contrast I can have ABC Radio National or RNZ’s National Radio on all day, because I’ll be taken from politics to recipes to outer space without having to think about what I want.

    To torture a metaphor – narrowcasting is like being fed your favourite food and nothing else. Too much and you not only start to feel sick but you lose your appetite.

    Many narrowcasters is like a restaurant – often you’re not sure what you’d like, so you choose one thing from the menu and are disappointed.

    But a good broadcaster is like a degustation menu. Always full of surprises, challenging you to try things you wouldn’t pick off a menu, and leaving you wanting more.

    Call me a Reithian, but I want media that’ll inform and educate, but also surprise.

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