World Association of News Publishers

Print-Online Performance Gap

Print-Online Performance Gap


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Old But Not Obsolete

Despite having been written off countless times in the past, the printed newspaper stubbornly refuses to die. It is astounding to witness the tenacity with which the more than 400-years-old news medium asserts itself in the digital era. In many industrialised counties – from North America to Europe and Oceania – circulations, and especially advertising revenues, are in decline. But from a global perspective newspaper circulations are growing from year to year. This is due mainly to increased circulations in Asia.
    Some 40 per cent of the world's adults read a newspaper daily – corresponding to 2.7 billion people. Therefore it is obvious that readers value the printed newspaper.

The Preferred Medium

On 16th January 2017, the Australian reported: “Print remains the preferred medium for the majority of Australians who read news media, the latest emma statistics show. November figures have nine out of ten consumers – or 16.7 million Australians – reading news media, with 80 per cent of them (13.5 million) preferring to read a printed newspaper.
    Some 12.8 million readers accessed news media via smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC. The report says 11.2 million people, or 61 per cent of consumers, read a metro newspaper in the period covered by the report, while 7.5 million people (41 per cent of consumers) read a regional or community newspaper.“
    On 12 January 2017, John Ridding, CEO, Financial Times, asked: “Who wants today’s newspapers?” He emphasises the importance of the printed newspaper in the media mix when he states: “Ultimately the FT strategy is led by its readers. If they don’t want print, we won’t deliver it. The fact is, they do. And they do so as part of a portfolio of formats – perhaps a digital summary when they wake, the newspaper over coffee or at the weekend, desktop on arrival at work, e-mail alerts through the day, video when on a mobile device.
    Not losing money on print is obviously good for business. But there are additional benefits. It re-establishes the rightful order for an independent media. To summarise the late, great Henry Luce, the primary relationship of a newspaper should be with its readers, not its advertisers. Hard-headed Mad Men and Women get this, too. Proof of quality circulation, through successful price rises and robust readership, has enabled the FT to take advertising share in most markets and in most sectors. Confident pricing and quality circulation – even with the consequence of reduced volumes – are not an alternative to advertising. They are a support.”

Young People Don't Read – A Myth

Hermann Petz reports similar experiences. He serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Moser Holding Aktiengesellschaft and Chairman of Supervisory Board at Regional Media Austria AG. Petz is also the author of a German-language book titled “The Newspaper is Dead, Long Live the Newspaper.”
    Petz was the keynote speaker at the World Printers Forum Conference in Hamburg 2015. What you will read in the headlines is that print numbers have gone down again, Petz said, but he noted that 57.9 per cent of Tiroler Tageszeitung (TT) readers only read the print media. Thirty-two percent read both versions and only 10 percent of TT’s readers are online readers only. 
    “My favourite myth is that young people no longer read the print newspaper,” Petz said, “but at TT – 40.3 percent of people 14-18 years old read a TT print product.”
    At the beginning of February 2017, Neil Thurman who works at the Department of Communication Studies and Media Research at LMU Munich and at the Department of Journalism, City University of London, UK, published a scientific article concerning the time British newspaper readers spend reading their newspapers.
    He came to the conclusion that “of the time spent with 11 UK national newspaper brands by their British audiences, 88.5 per cent still comes via their print editions, 7.49 per cent via mobiles, and just 4 per cent via PCs.” He continues: “UK national newspaper brands engage each of their online visitors for an average of less than 30 seconds a day, but their print readers for an average of 40 minutes.”

The North American Newspaper Industry

But how will the opportunities for the printed newspaper develop in the future? In Europe, it has been our experience that many technical, scientific and society trends develop first in the USA before growing in importance in Europe following a certain time lag. This can be expected to be the case especially for the digital social media, as they are developed and used first in the USA, something that is additionally favoured by the largely liberal economic policy of the United States.
    Consequently, if the current situation in the North American newspaper industry provides an indication of what the future can be expected to bring for the European industry (and after a certain delay also for the countries in the Middle East and Asia), then it is definitely worthwhile to take a look across the Atlantic.
    Perhaps it is possible to identify most immediately the competition between digital and print as well as the interrelationships between the rise of the former and the supposed decline of the latter on the basis of the development of regional newspapers. Journalism professor Iris Chyi and doctoral student Ori Tenenboim from the University of Texas at Austin, are at present having to deal with a great deal of protest due to a study on this topic. Since the US news portal Politico reported about its results, there has been an increasingly passionate discussion in the USA concerning the central assertions of the paper.

US Metropolitan Newspapers

Taking as a basis 51 US metropolitan newspapers with a circulation of more than 120,000 copies in each case, the authors closely examined whether the digital focus on the reader market in the last years bore fruit. It can be said right away: this was by no means the case.
    The reach of the print versions of the investigated newspapers dropped from 42.7 to 28.8 percent between 2007 and 2015. The online reach of the newspaper websites stagnated, but in the same period rose from 9.8 to just ten per cent. “Therefore we do not believe that the readers abandoned the print product for the websites of the newspapers”, said Chyi to the trade publication 4c. Indeed, the online versions of the newspapers seem to be once again on the losing side in the last years: In 2011 their reach had actually achieved 10.7 per cent. 
    The authors of the study deliberately excluded the major national or internationally important US newspapers from their investigations as, due to their prominent position, these newspapers, e.g. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, differ from the majority of regional newspaper houses and accordingly are not exemplary for the mass of medium-sized publishing houses with a regional focus.
    For this report, jointly prepared by WAN-IFRA and the trade publication 4C, H. Iris Chyi wrote a summary of her last year's study. In her summary, she also reflects upon the reactions to date and the discussion about the study in the USA.

Views of International Experts

Moreover, we considered it important to discover the views of newspaper experts outside of North America on the matters under discussion. To this end, we interviewed a number of acknowledged experts from newsrooms, publishing houses as well as equipment manufacturers and material suppliers. We include their replies to our six questions in this report, after the summary of the Texas study.
    It is not our objective with this publication to present unchallenged truths, but to encourage a discussion on the importance of the printed newspaper today and in the future, as well as the consequences from the findings of latest research.

H. Iris Chyi, Martin Schwarz, Manfred Werfel


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2017-03-21 01:00

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