Discussing the idea that Print Journalism is a dying medium and what it means for the future of journalism.
There’s a growing idea amongst journalism professionals that print media is slowly obsoleting as a viable form[i]. This idea is not a new one, since the birth of online journalism there’s been a fear that it would spell the end of more traditional media formats. As much as this seems like a worrying trend, one need only look to a similar fear in another industry that felt the emergence of online formats had all but killed off a beloved format – the music industry and Vinyl. With this is mind, what’s to prevent a love of physical media to stay with readers and follow the same resurging trend that vinyl experienced.
(Image 1: see endnote x)
As much as it might seem a bit of a leap to compare the readership and success of print newspaper to the sales and revenue of vinyl, it’s not as wild a comparison as you’d assume. The key comparing point between the two is the fact that they are both physical means of experiencing something widely available online – as well as in a portable more accessible format. The physical element of both forms is one of the key elements, perhaps stemming from our development as children as tactual-kinaesthetic learners, where people enjoy and indulge more in a product that is readily touchable. The same goes for books, magazines, and photographs among other physical artefacts.
Looking at things as currently as we can (without paying a hefty fee), The Australian Bureau of Circulations reports the newspaper industry in Australia has been losing consumers at quite a significant rate year-on-year since 2012[ii], as well as there being a declining trend in majority of localities worldwide both in terms of ad revenue and circulation numbers, as per WAN-IFRA[iii]. This may seem worrying at first viewing, however it follows a remarkably similar trend in the sales of vinyl between 1999 and 2006 shown to us by the IFPI[iv]:
(Figure 1: See endnote iv)
Between these years we see a USD$126 Million decline in sales of vinyl, similar however much more severe than the global 13% decline in newspaper revenue over the past five years as shown to us by WAN-IFRA.
This year-by-year trend provides quite strong correlation between vinyl and print news; the good news is that since 2006, worldwide vinyl sales have increased by a factor of more that 450% – in fact the global revenue in 2012 exceeds that of 1997 by almost 10%. The managing director of the Official Chart Company in the UK, Martin Talbot, backs up this sentiment, saying to the BBC “Only five years ago this business was worth around £3m a year. This year  it’s going to be worth £20m”[v].
These figures provide some comfort to those who cling on to and enjoy the traditional media formats, those who aim to become professionals in a print news industry, or both.
(Figure 2: See endnote iii)
The fact that there’s a growing market for print media in Asia, the Middle East and in particular Latin America also shows that the idea that the medium is dead may only be relevant to a western society. However to get a grasp of how this comparison can dictate the future of journalism in Australia, more local data needs to be analysed.
Between March of 2015 and 2016, stats provides by Roy Morgan Research show that only 3 of 33 studied print newspapers in Australia have shown a growth in readership, majority of these losing readership in a combined Weekday, Saturday and Sunday circulation[vi]. This along with the WAN-IFRA report showing significant decreases in both circulation and ad revenue, as well as the job cuts and strike of Fairfax employees, don’t provide a lot of hope for Australian print media[vii].
However again comparing it to the incremental growth of the vinyl industry in Australia provides solace that a revival could be on hand. The Australian Record Industry Association’s 2012 report on wholesale sales of music show that even in a smaller market, vinyl is growing. From the end of 2011 to the end of 2012, vinyl singles saw a 58.56% increase in quantity sales and a 46.89% increase in dollar value, while vinyl LP’s saw a 73.67% quantity growth and over doubled the dollar value of sales with a 105.21% increase[viii].
Given this is a 2012 report, it would be reasonable to assume that these figures would follow the trends of vinyl sales worldwide, increasing year-on-year to present and providing another physical market that is claiming back some of the ground the digital media had taken. Given the comparisons, it’s hard to see the death of print media in a country as large as Australia, especially given the interest growing in the Northern Territory and the success of the Financial Times, as the report above, giving the industry a steady platform to build upon.
Despite the correlations, there will always be those that take an opposing view, take a look at newspaperdeathwatch.com, run by former Editor-in-Chief of magazines run by IDG Ventures, Paul Gillin[ix]. His website is one that focuses thoroughly on the ideas that citizen journalism and online media are the obvious way forward in the industry, and with a wealth of journalism and technology experience his point is valid. He doesn’t completely ignore the trends of traditional media however, and he takes a relatively unbiased view of all things relating to the industry as a whole.
An interesting take on the pros and cons of both sides, he takes to it with elements of wit – as seen by the praise for a poignant parody video focussing on a changing media landscape:
Lots of the points Gillin raise are bang on. One of the concepts that we mustn’t ignore is the idea that these forms of media can coexist without a detrimental effect to the other. Of course there’s going to be competition from online exclusive services, new age thinkers and innovators capturing the attentions of a younger demographic not raised on the delivery of a newspaper on your driveway every morning. This again however mimics the trends seen in the record industry post-vinyl. When the Compact Disc was released and became a more widely accessible means of listening to music, it reached the masses more easily but didn’t convince everyone. The same can be said about the introduction of portable media files, the likes of .mp3 and .WAV. None of these aimed (directly) to kill off any similar products already on the market, nor did they appeal to everyone. Citizen Journalism and listicle based companies didn’t aim to take the throne of the tradition print media format, but with the rapid acceptance of digital media as a legitimate and well sourced medium there was always going to be some friction between the two. But now with many of Australia’s, nay the worlds major newspapers taking to an online platform as well as their traditional print, the scope they can reach only extends. As with any audience dictated industry, each individual (or group of individuals) has his or her preferred manner of participating. If newspapers can somehow grab hold of the younger generations as successfully as the vinyl industry can, there’s no reason it can’t replicate the revival that vinyl has had (and is continuing to have) over the past decade.
The comparisons between newspaper and vinyl are more complete than assumed at first glance. Both are more traditional, physical mediums that had their alleged heyday in years gone by, and ones that have the ability to keep for an extended period of time after initial release. In the early-mid 2000s many in the recording industry thought that vinyl was a dead format, and mp3 and CD, coupled with streaming were to be the continuing way forward. Fast forward a decade and worldwide sales have eclipsed those of the late 90s and a full revival has occurred, encompassing both old and new artists. A similar thought can be presented when talking about newspapers. Many people are under the impression that the digital landscape has enveloped so much of the journalism media that in the near future traditional print journalism will become an obsolete medium. However as shown, the statistics in relation to newspaper don’t spell complete disaster, with circulation and revenue increasing in many areas in the world, and the declining trends closely mirrors those seen in the vinyl industry, and we all know how that looks now. [x]
[ii] https://mumbrella.com.au/abc-newspapers-continue-print-decline-173008 (Accessed 29 May 16)
[iii] http://www.marketingcharts.com/traditional/global-newspaper-circulation-and-advertising-trends-in-2013-43338/attachment/wan-ifra-newspaper-circs-ad-trends-in2013-june2014/). (Accessed 29 May 16)
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Vinyl_Sales_Graph_In_US$.png (Accessed 31 May 16)
[vi] http://www.roymorgan.com/industries/media/readership/newspaper-readership (Accessed 29 May 16)
[viii] http://www.aria.com.au/documents/2012wholesalefigures.pdf (Accessed 1 June 16)
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