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Media (R)evolutions: Digital news gains ground on traditional print press

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Many newspapers and media watchers around the world bemoan the “death of print”, stirring a sense of loss because print newspapers represent something historical, nostalgic, or dramatic to their readers.  Many who lament the demise of print newspapers do so because they believe it signals two broad trends: younger generations don’t see the point of buying a hard copy of newsprint and people are reading less and are, therefore, less informed.  On the first point, it is true that in developed countries there has been a steady decline in the circulation of newspaper print editions, but it should be noted that print media is still growing in developing media countries, like India and China.  

On the second point, it’s clear that people are not actually reading less news. Data from Global Web Index makes it clear that internet users are spending more time each day perusing digital news. On average, adults with internet access are now spending 50 minutes a day reading online press – more than 10 minutes longer than they spend reading print versions. Mobiles phones have had a clear impact, allowing users to keep up with the news throughout the day, and 6 in 10 adults are now visiting news websites on their mobiles each month, with 41% using a dedicated news app. 

This data suggests that the market for paid news is not failing and there are possible business models for online news. The need for information will not vanish and their remains a market for high-quality credible news. Press sites will have to work harder, though, to convince consumers to visit their sites directly rather than social networks as Twitter and Facebook, which have been positioning themselves as prime sources for news.

So, what we are probably seeing is the death of the medium— not the message. Print newspapers may diminish in prominence but their online counterparts may flourish. In a digital news world, the diversity of opinions in the public space is growing, and online sites have at least as much power to deliver a great variety of messages and ideas.

Newspapers should now focus on ensuring that good journalism in all its variety can survive in the new environment, which means adopting new strategies to ensure that they can remain sustainable in the digital landscape.

As a paper’s revenues are heavily dependent on paid advertisements, the decline in advertising revenue has not been encouraging.  This is particularly pertinent because, currently, online news sites do not generate enough money through advertisements— even with the millions of monthly unique visitors. While online advertising has grown steadily, it is also much less expensive than it is in a printed edition and the revenue from advertising does not cover the cost of creating the content. The result: papers have more readers, but less revenue.  

One significant new strategy is the offering of membership-based premium content. The Guardian in Britain offers subscriptions and membership plans; Slate which offers Slate Plus in the US; and The New York Times, which presents The Insider, are some of the major news sites that have expanded their existing membership-based programs to offer content to paying members that isn’t available to non-paying readers. This is an alternative to a paywall model, which obstructs every reader when they try to open an article and blocks frequent readers the most. When done properly, a membership model forces a media outlet to shift the way it thinks about its readers, from “Hit them with a popup and force them to pay,” to “How can we determine what they want and deliver it?”

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