Sunday, May 16, 2010

What will become of the print media?

According to latest figures, average newspaper circulation in Australia is down 3.1 per cent in Q1 2010 in comparison to the same time last year. Does this mean the end is nigh for the print media as we know it? Perhaps. Are we destined to glean most of our news content from online sources in the future? Perhaps not. The jury is still out on whether either medium is sustainable in the long term.

In a recent Australian survey conducted by Celsius Research, 57 per cent of respondents indicated that newspapers and their affiliated sites were vital for shaping the news stories of the day. Fairfax CEO Brian McCarthy supports this finding, suggesting that a combination of print and online content creates a powerful and credible brand. However, the cost of generating quality news content for both mediums is significant. In future, news providers may have to choose to focus on one more than the other, as the cost of providing quality content both online and in print may prove to be too much.

Politico is a rare example of how both mediums can be used to successfully support each other. Founded in 2007 by two former Washington Post employees, it is comprised of an online news site updated regularly and a magazine that is printed weekly. The magazine is distributed in Washington free of charge, and essentially contains stories reproduced from their news site. This facilitates the publication of newspaper ads which drive the profits that are then ploughed back into the website. The key to this success story is that the profits are derived from print advertising, rather than online advertising.

You see, online advertising on news sites may not be as successful as it is portrayed. Recent survey results in the US show that a whopping 79 per cent of consumers queried stated that they rarely or never paid attention to online advertising when accessing news content. Similarly, the same survey indicated that 53 per cent of all American adults access news online, but only 35 per cent of these regularly visit the same site. Few respondents indicated willingness to pay for access to news content. This can be attributed to the fact that few consumers demonstrate any ‘loyalty’ to a particular news site, rather they access stories of interest from search engines such as Google.

If consumers are unwilling to subscribe to access online news, and online advertising is not as successful as it is currently considered, is the medium sustainable in the long term? The answer may well be yes, albeit not in its current form. In reality, news providers cannot afford to invest heavily in both mediums in their current forms. Foreseeable changes may include; news providers relying mainly on syndicated content online that is cheaper to produce; or newspapers containing less content and published less frequently, focusing more on in-depth investigations. At this stage it is unclear what lies ahead for the news industry, however it is safe to say that if newspaper circulation continues to fall and online advertising continues to be largely ignored, a tremendous shake-up is in store sooner or later. Both mediums may be ultimately unsustainable in their current form, but the future of the industry remains to be seen.

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