Monday, November 15, 2010

There Is A Distinct Audience For The Printed Product

For several years, people in the United States have been complaining about how newspapers are old news. Sales and advertising revenue have been slipping (although newspaper profit margins were 25% as recently as 2006). People are tired of reading old-fashioned ink on paper! they say. The Internet is the way of the future!

A peek at the rest of the world suggests differently. Are the corporations who have bought up the newspaper market just looking for a scapegoat, because they don't know how to run a newspaper business? Other countries seem to have a healthy print newspaper readership, and are finding a better balance between print and online subscriptions.

Print is still king: Only 3 percent of newspaper reading happens online

Rates of decline in US newspaper circulation slowed from last year in the same period last year, according to figures released on Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Audit Bureau showed that average weekday circulation at 635 newspapers declined 5 percent compared with the same six months last year. The decline last year was more than twice that, 10.6 percent, as newspapers struggled through the recession and more readers abandoned print copies for the Internet.

Sunday circulation at 553 newspapers fell at a slightly slower pace, 4.5 percent, the figures showed. Last year, it declined 7.5 percent.

The Wall Street Journal reported an average weekday circulation of slightly fewer than 2.1 million, up 2 percent from a year ago. The number of printed copies The Journal distributes each weekday averaged 1.6 million, a figure that has remained about steady in the three years since Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought the paper.The Dallas Morning News posted an increase of 0.3 percent to 264,000.

Randy Bennett, senior vice president for business development at the Newspaper Association of America, said the declines in part reflected a decision by newspaper publishers to eliminate low-cost — and less profitable — subscriptions. “There’s an acknowledgment that in this multichannel world, newspapers recognize there is a distinct audience for the printed product, and they’re going to spend much of their energies to reach that audience.”

But what is Canada doing that the USA isn't?

Newspaper readership remains strong in Canada.  Print readership is up, print and online readership up even more! The recent survey released by NADbank shows newspapers across Canada holding a very strong readership position.

In the one-million-population-plus Canadian markets, print and online newspaper readership has grown by more than 500,000 readers since 2005. Those top markets show total weekly newspaper penetration levels of between 75% to 80% of the adult population. That's an impressive reach.

In Toronto, Canada's largest market (population 4.5 million), print newspapers reach roughly 70% of adults over 18, online readership represents roughly 25%. Combined, they reach 76% of the adult population, an impressive reach indeed.

Toronto remains one of the toughest competitive markets anywhere, with seven English-language daily publications reaching roughly 3.5 million adults every week. Over the past year, weekly print readership rose 2% in Toronto, online grew 4.5% and combined the print/online combination grew by 3%.

Who says people are not reading newspapers anymore?

The Toronto Star, Canada's most-read newspaper, fared well in this most-recent release, with print weekly readership growing by 4.6% and the print/online combination weekly reach up 5.3% to just over 2.3 million readers per week. That's a nice showing for a large North American metropolitan newspaper.

The emerging story in Canada is the strength of Metro, a free weekly newspaper that is published in seven Canadian markets. Metro Toronto, first published during the summer of 2000, now has more than 500,000 daily readers, making it Toronto's second most-read newspaper after the Toronto Star. Of the seven newspapers published in Toronto, four are paid and three are free. The free publications now represent roughly 30% of total readership in the Toronto marketplace. While some readers are definitely opting for online content offerings, the desire for print in Toronto remains strong.

Across Canada, newspapers remain strong. Also, it appears that while online readership for news continues to grow, it is not replacing the print habit for most newspaper readers.

The challenge for traditional media operations will be in attracting younger users. While the overall readership levels released in this study are indeed impressive, it is an aging demographic. Even the free-distribution newspapers tend to have a slightly older audience. The same can be said for traditional online news sites.

The demise of newspapers is greatly exaggerated.


    Great post.

  2. I'm sorry to say my hope is in the other direction.

    The printed newspaper takes too long to bring the news, whereas digital media is immediate. Printed media has necessary space limitations (as does the electronic media of radio and television), while digital media can use all the space it wants.

    Take for example your own blog post. There would never be space in newspaper or magazine for a post this lengthy. Not that the post is too long, au contraire, it's exactly the right size for what you had to say, but newspapers or magazines could never afford the space it needs.

    When I was in 3rd grade (1971-72...40 years ago I point out) our class went through a period of learning about the newspaper, right down to learning how to read the stocks and bonds on the financial pages. Our teacher pointed out to us that we were of the perfect age of comprehension (8 years old) to drink all that the newspaper had to offer, as newspapers are geared to be understood by the masses and were written to a 3rd grade reading level. At the age of 9 I began looking down my nose at the limited language of the daily paper and the brevity and lack of detail of stories I wanted to know more about.

    They don't have the room to do the job.

    They don't have the timeliness to bring the "news".

    We don't need to continue to clear forests to supply bird cage liners to the masses.

    Great post by the way. It's what this is all about. A place to talk about what you care about.

  3. You make some good points, and you may be closer to the mark. I may just have a soft spot for newspapers, or at least the idea of newspapers. Sunday comics wrapped around the outside of the paper, and so big I had to lay them on the floor to read them. Actually reading, in the same paper, Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, The Far Side, Bloom County, and Spider-man honestly by Stan Lee and John Romita. And lots of undergarment ads.

  4. Ahhhhhhhh I do know what you mean. Imagine living during the days of full page comics...or better yet, imagine Watterson and Schulz working then.

    I too have a soft spot for the paper, as much as I treasure the accessabilty and organization of my accrued digital comics library...there is a visceral romance to holding cheap pulp newsprint between your fingers...and that smell...I love the smell.

    I also have high regard for the role the Fourth Estate has had bringing information and discussion and even power to the people. I just feel there are new mediums which make the tired method of print pointless.

    The job the newspapers have done for us should never go away, but like the village smithy (once the busiest guy in town, now no where to be seen) it's not practical.

    I just hope we can still lay belly down on the floor and get lost in the new the way you perfectly describe how it used to lose us yesterday.

    Oh, and whatever form it may eventually take...long live the undergarment ads. ;P