People say time’s up for the newspaper every time a new media platform comes to life. But newspapers survived radio, television, and cable. It has a way of surviving the Internet.
The hurdle, says Barbie L. Atienza external affairs head of Manila Bulletin, is how the rise of a new type of audience — one that heavily sources their news and information from the web and friend endorsements on social media — is having an impact on the two main sources of income for newspapers: circulation and advertising.
“People now access the news and information they need and want through gadgets, particularly the smart phone. They have gotten used to having instant 24 /7 access. This has a bearing on copies of newspapers circulated and sold,” Atienza explained.
As a result, the concurrent president of United Print Media Group Philippines added, advertisers see reason to invest less on print.
But Vincent Peyregne, Chief Executive Officer of WAN-INFRA, a global association of newspapers, said the industry is a noticing “a shift from advertising to reader-based revenue” and that this is “reshaping the fundamentals of our industry.”
Speaking at the 69th World News Media Congress and 24th World Editors Forum in Durban, South Africa last year, Peyregne said the World Press Trends study estimates that 56 percent of overall revenue for newspapers come from circulation sales, both print and digital. In actual figures, this represents $86 billion.
Meanwhile, data from the same study indicates that revenue derived from advertising continues to dip, reaching $68 billion in 2016.
In the United States, an analysis made by the PEW Research Center on the yearend financial statements of seven publicly traded US newspaper companies suggests that advertising revenue recorded a 10 percent decline in 2016, worse than the eight percent in 2015.
To Peyregne, the upward trend in circulation sales, which now matches income recorded from advertising in 2012, suggests that the market is becoming audience-centric.
To leverage the trend, he said, the industry’s focus “needs to be on our audience and producing high-quality, engaging journalism.”
And to sustain credible, first-rate journalism, Peyregne said it has to be a business that builds a loyal community.
This also holds true for the digital offerings of news outfits, where the advertising market is likewise shrinking in favor of social media.
Digital journalism, like print journalism, has gone through waves of disruption and challenges. The volume of information available online is just so much that one can no longer identify which is real and which is fake.
Trust is the new digital currency, and its decline is the biggest risk for the industry, Peyregne said.
Social media, he said, wants to keep you on their platform and send information which confirms your areas of interest and opinions. This is different from credible media’s offering of all news, not only those you like, Peyregne added.
“Trusted media organizations are the error correction of the Internet,” he said.
Paying for news
Data from the American Press Institute showed that 53 percent of adults pay for news, and the number one reason people start subscribing is the coverage of specific topics.
The New York Times has 2.9 million digital-only subscribers, out of its 3.8 million total. In the second quarter of 2018, those digital subscriptions rose to $99 million, a nearly 20 percent increase from the same period last year.
Digital subscriptions, starting at $97.76 for one year, are cheaper than print editions, and some plans come bundled with access to its sought-after daily crossword puzzles and cooking recipes.
Peyregne said many surveys have debunked past observations that the younger generation will not pay for digital news. Schibsted in Norway reported that subscribers aged 17 to 42 go for digital only.
“The evidence shows that our readers are hungry for credible journalism. We need to seize this opportunity. Focus on the right metrics: loyalty and community,” Peyregne said.
But to Manila Bulletin’s Atienza, credible journalism should still go hand in hand with the preference of customers — style and speed.
“Timeliness is critical, as they would expect to get news and information as close to, if not actual ‘real time’ as possible. They are also a people in a hurry, and they want to take stories in a flash. So the discipline of keeping our stories brief and concise yet complete and accurate is such a challenge,” Atienza said.