Print media has a fight on its hands

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013

Dubai: Today, most people still read newspapers. But more and more now depend on the digital form.

Newspaper circulations are dropping worldwide, with a few exceptions such as the Middle East. But new sources of revenues can already be found online in many Western markets.

The big question is not how to increase print circulation any more, but how to further engage with viewers and readers, according to a new survey.

“More than half the world’s adult population read a daily newspaper; 2.5 billion in print, more than 600 million in [a] digital form,” says the annual report from WAN-IFRA titled ‘World Press Trends in 2013’, which sheds light on the status of the $200 billion (Dh734.6 billion) newspaper industry.

At the same time, newspaper circulation and advertising vary widely by region, even as it declined by 0.9 per cent overall in 2012 from the year earlier. The decline between 2008 and 2012 was 2.2 per cent, with the steepest recorded in Europe.

Over the last five years, circulation was down 27.4 per cent in East Europe, 24.8 per cent in Western Europe, 13 per cent in North America, 9.6 per cent in Australia and New Zealand and 0.8 per cent in Latin America. However, it increased by 9.8 per cent in Asia and 10.5 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I am almost certain that newspapers, as a business, in the form of print and traditional media is dying,” Sulaiman Al Hattlan, founder and CEO of Al Hattlan Media, a media firm and also publisher of web-based Al Hattlan Post, said. “It is a matter of time,” Al Hattlan, who is also the publisher of Al Hattlan Post, a news website, added.

The time will vary according to peoples’ access to internet, he added. “The more people have access, the more they read online.”

Internet penetration rates

People in the Gulf, as an example, have one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world.

“Measured spending in print media has fallen from its peak to plateau in the region. Hard copy readership of dailies in key advertising markets is also on the decline or displaying a sluggish growth as per Target Group Index surveys,” M. Shaharyar Umar, marketing director at Pan Arab Research Center (Parc), said.

“The online version of print media has reached more than a third of the total adult population in the biggest print advertising market of the region, namely the UAE.

Therefore, “a paradigm shift towards reading the online version is clearly visible with internet penetration exceeding 84 per cent. Hence, print media in its current form of hard copy is likely to see some movement of its readers to the online version.”

The WAN-IFRA report noted that newspapers represent a small part of the overall internet consumption, with only 7 per cent of visits, though “half of the digital population visit newspaper websites”.

Engaging audiences

It added “the biggest challenge for publishers continues to be how to increase the engagement of audiences on digital platforms.”

The US media, among the first to feel the heat of technology influence on print, seems to have succeeded in developing revenues from non-traditional sources. In the US, 27 per cent of a newspaper company’s revenues come from “non-traditional sources”. They include digital, service to clients in addition to advertising, and e-commerce.

Asked about the feasibility of charging for online content in the region, Al Hattlan says it is “out of question” at present. Website visits, including for news portals, would not bring in revenues to match ad revenues regardless of the number of visitors.

“Advertisements depend on traffic, and I, as a website, would care about having a strong traffic,” Al Hattlan added. “In the US, there are giant institutions willing to pay for analyses and research, a thing we don’t have.”

As for content selling to readers here, it still has “a very long way to go”.

By Jumana Al Tamimi Associate Editor

Gulf News 2013. All rights reserved.


Most Popular

In the last 24 hours