Friday, 28 June 2013

Will printed newspapers be published every day in 2020?

The human urge to stay informed in societies both democratic and dictatorial has been present from the times of ancient empires. Prior to mass printed text, news spread through conversation at public gathering places, from drunken tavern conversations to groups of women gathered around village wells, as well as through letters and broadsheets.  The newspaper, in its modern day form and breadth of content, came into being in the 17th century, aided by the spread of the printing press. About two hundred years later, mass controlled media developed and flourished, relying heavily on advertising to generate profits.

As the world population continues to grow exponentially, the demand for news is stronger than ever before. Yet, in many Western countries, newspaper publishers are struggling to find sustainable models to create revenue as they are forced to adapt to the digital media age. The United States is the worst case, as it relied the most heavily on advertising revenue - 87% of their revenue came from advertising in 2008. In 2011, a former head of strategy at Axel Springer, a European newspaper publisher, estimated that by 2020 newspaper circulation will have fallen by 50%.  Many newspapers are turning to a part print, print digital format, with some going entirely digital, or else turning into free dailies, which are especially popular in Europe. Some papers are adopting a strategy of going to print fewer times a week, such as Detroit newspapers did in the midst of the economic downturn.

The reality is that much printed matter in developed countries with high Internet usage rates will become digital in the coming years - this is a trend that is already in motion as we can see from the declining figures of the revenue taken in by the print news industry. By 2020 in these countries, internet news sites and platforms such as Twitter will supplant a very substantial amount of physical newspaper circulation - paper being replaced by pixels on a variety of devices such as smart phones, tablets and computers.

Yet, if you take a global perspective, newspaper circulation has increased 6% from 2005 to 2009, according an article in The Economist in 2011. This growth is happening in developing countries, notably India and China. In 2013, Internet penetration in India is at 2% compared to over 90% in countries like the United States, and this is one reason physical newspapers continue to thrive. Indian newspapers have the largest circulation numbers of anywhere in the world - 330 million daily in 2011. The relatively slow spread of Internet combined with soaring population numbers and rising literacy rates in India provide fertile ground for continued growth. In 2009, there were more than 74,000 newspaper being published in India, with the vernacular press having huge numbers of circulation.

The quality of journalism in papers like the Times of India, the world’s biggest English language paper with a circulation of 4 million, is controversial and often openly partisan. They pursue a strategy of merging the sales department with the newsroom, much content being paid for by advertisers. Additionally there is a strong emphasis on celebrity and sports coverage.

It is possible that a lack of authenticity in print will eventually drive readers to the more democratic world of online publishing. Competition with digital media platforms will be vigorous as the Internet spreads, and younger consumers of news will gravitate towards online sources of information. However, it is safe to say that in 2020, daily printed newspapers will be flourishing not only in India but also in other developing countries across Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

                                         Old fashioned printing press, image from Google images

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