Delivering tomorrow’s paper

By Ross Dawson on April 20, 2006 | Permalink

If Rupert Murdoch is predicting the end of newspapers as we know them, then we should probably listen. In 1960, 80% of Americans read a daily newspaper. Today the figure is closer to 50% ­and falling. Globally circulation is falling too. Between 1995-2003, global newspaper circulation fell by 5%. In Europe the fall was 3%, and in Japan, 2%. Many young people (‘digital natives’ as Mr Murdoch calls them) don’t read a newspaper at all and, if the current trend continues, the last newspaper (probably read by a digital immigrant) will be thrown into a bin sometime in the year 2040. So what is going on? The explanations are varied and legion. More people are reading news on the Internet, fewer retailers deliver newspapers door-to-door (less children doing paperounds), less people are using public transport (and drive to work listening to the radio instead) and less people are sitting down to breakfast at home (less opportunity to read newspapers). And you can¹t just blame the Internet either because the decline in newspaper circulation predates the web. It’s not all bad news though. Some local papers are thriving and in the UK sales of quality papers are actually increasing thanks to innovations like compact editions. However, Internet-based news and opinion does have a significant advantage over paper-based products because of functionality and interactivity. Phrases like conversation and discussion really mean something on blogs because readers can actually contribute. OhmyNews in South Korea, for example, is produced by 33,000 citizen reports and read by 2 million Koreans. Add to this developments like photoblogs, video blogs and podcasting (blogging with sound) and newspapers are looking like yesterday’s news. Incidentally, to put this piece into perspective, it¹s interesting to read in Prospect magazine that in 1892 London had 14 evening papers. Now it has just one (the Evening Standard) plus a free afternoon paper aimed at women called Standard Lite.