So are newspapers dead? Is it possible that you could wander down to the newsagent in ten years’ time and find not just a diminished selection of newspapers but none at all? Could it be conceivable that, in said newsagent, you would be faced with a wall of bland periodicals, celebrity magazines and discreetly placed skin mags, but not a single newspaper?
No, this is unlikely. But what is certain is that the newspaper industry as a whole is under more pressure to adapt to change now than it has ever been before.
In the period between the use of Acta Diurna (Daily Acts) in Ancient Rome – a series of daily notices for the great unwashed that were carved on stone or written on papyrus and stuck up in public places – and Woodward and Bernstein nailing Tricky Dick to the wall, the top-down communications model used by the mass media changed very little.
In other words, the newspapers or media of the day communicated a set of messages or information and these were, for want of a better alternative, accepted by the audiences in question. Their editorials also helped by telling us clearly how we should think about things.
Nowadays, however, thanks to the Internet – and to state the bleedin’ obvious – all has changed and nearly everyone can become a ‘publisher’. Niall Stanage’s excellent article in last weekend’s Sunday Business Post <a href=”http://www.sbpost.ie/post/pages/p/story.aspx-qqqt=INSIDE+STORY-qqqs=agenda-qqqid=41067-qqqx=1.asp”>(see article here) </a>chronicled the ongoing malaise in the US newspaper industry and noted the two-fold impact of the web on U.S. newspapers, namely a) people can get news and information from a whole range of online sources, so why should they bother buying any one paper, and b) advertisers can now hit consumers directly via the Internet so why spend a pile of cash on print ads.
So whither newspapers? Could this kind of downturn spread here? On this, there’s no question that some newspapers in Ireland are hurting. Some titles have spent the last few years haemorrhaging both money and people. But it’s probably a little premature to write the obituary for the industry just yet (and anyway, without newspapers, where would you publish it?).
Circulation figures have stayed relatively solid for the most part in recent years and there haven’t been widespread dramatic crashes in sales of any particular titles. The inherent nosiness of Irish people means that consumers in this country are likely to continue to enjoy getting their news and gossip from the folding medium.
All that said, the business model will have to adapt. The publication of newspaper content online means that newspapers are losing out both on sales and print advertising. Very few newspapers have successfully managed to maintain a print edition and a subscription-based online model (as noted by Stanage, the Wall Street Journal is one of these exceptions).
So what to do? Do newspapers whack up the price of print editions? Do they erect a ‘pay wall’ in front of their premium online content? Do they switch focus from being news-driven outlets and place a greater emphasis on issues and opinions? Right now, these are questions burning the walls around Talbot Street, Tara Street, Lapps Quay and elsewhere.
In summary, newspapers in Ireland are unlikely to die anytime soon. But when you walk into that newsagent in 2019, you may well find yourself paying a very different price for a very different product.
This article was written up on the <a href=”http://www.mkc.ie/blog/?p=141″>MKC BLOG</a> and appeared in April 2009.