Tuesday, 13 March 2012

News online - why it won't kill the printed press

People are increasingly getting their news online, newspaper circulation is falling, therefore the internet will eventually lead to the death of the printed newspaper. That's the way the argument goes, but is it right?

Needless to say I don't think it is - if I did, this would be a very short post. The claim that more people get news online is true as is the claim that newspaper circulation is falling, but are they connected? No. To understand why you only need to look at where people access their online news content - in the office. Online news is the new big distraction from the working day, just as the internet as a whole is the diversion of choice when faced with a boring day in the office.  You can gaze to your hearts content as long as you're not breaching IT rules, or know you're not going to get caught.

Facebook or twitter would be first choice, but office systems have sussed this out and the famililar access denied icons pops up every time. Using smart phones in an office is a bit too obvious, so what are you left with? News sites. They're a great distraction, you can either keep up to date on the big topics, or just look at celebrity gossip. But this doesn't equate to a fall in newspaper sales. One activity is not displacing the other. Did you ever sit and read your paper while you were meant to be working? Of course not, you couldn't get away with it. Online news has replaced working, not reading the paper. Online news is not something you read on your way to work, and it's not something you read at home. At home you have more interesting things to do on your computer - it's leisure time after all.

So what is leading to the decline in newspaper circulation? Simple, it's the free sheet newspaper. How many people read the metro every day. What did they do before? Read a book? I doubt it. Talk to their fellow commuter? Come off it. Buy a paper? Yes. On the way to work people used to get a paper and read on the train. But now they can get free ones, so they don't need to spend their money.

Is there any evidence to support this? There might be, and  if I was in a full time paid job, I might look for some rather than do proper work, but, as I'm not, the one immediate proof comes with the evening paper market in London. For years people bought the Evening Standard. Irrespective of whether they agreed with the politics, it was something to read. Free evening papers were launched, the Standard's sales nosedived. Why pay for a pasttime others are providing for free. End result, Evening Standard goes free. It's sales rise and the other free papers close because no one reads them anymore.

So fans of printed papers, rejoice! They are not being killed by the internet, but they might just need to go free to survive. Online news sites rejoice! You have a captive audience until the economy really tanks. And bosses everywhere - well don't rejoice, but admit what we all know anyway, which is that people don't spend all the time behind their desks working, and most of you are also looking at news sites or something else that lurks on the internet trying to get your attention.