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Is print dead?

3 weeks ago

It comes as no surprise to anyone that digital media is more popular than print media- in fact it seems like a no brainer. In a world ruled by gadgets, people no longer place importance on nipping to the local corner shop and purchasing a copy of their favourite newspaper or magazine. Instead, all it takes is a simple Google search and it’s all there in front of you, in the comfort of your own home. 

Yes, print circulation is in decline, and it’s hard to avoid the sense that newspapers and magazines are at death’s door. In the early 20th century, television represented a huge blow to the print industry. But if that was bad, the internet becoming available to everyone in the 1990s could be, slowly but surely, driving the final nail in the coffin. 

By the mid 20th century, people simply didn’t have to rely on newspapers as their only source of news anymore, especially breaking news. But is print actually dead? Or does using the term ‘dead’ just represent an opportunity to marketers to take a new approach to print?

Generational differences

Younger generations aren’t engaging with print media to the same extent as previous generations. Last year, Ofcom conducted a News Consumption survey in the UK which revealed that the internet is by far the most popular platform for accessing news among 16-24s; 82% mainly get their news online and just 21% use newspapers as their main source of news. By contrast, people aged 65+ are more likely to stick to more traditional platforms for news such as TV, radio and print newspapers. 

However, it isn’t fair to blame the decline of print on the younger generation. Among the 65+ age group, news consumption via TV is almost universal, with 94% of people accessing news this way. So it seems that the older generation aren’t too keen on print media either. 

Television and the internet

Yes, we’re a nation of gogglebox-ers and it cannot be denied. The television has become a social aspect of households all around the country. After all, what’s better than sitting with your family, cup of tea in hand, in front of the TV every evening? 

It comes as no surprise that TV is the most used platform by UK adults for national news nowadays, with 79% of people saying they access the news via the telly. This also applies to international news, with 62% of UK adults saying they access world-wide news in this way.

But of course, we can’t overlook the internet when it comes to news consumption. Digital media has exploded over the last decade; people don’t go anywhere without a mobile phone and internet access, so it would be silly for news outlets not to take this into consideration.

The internet is the second most popular platform for accessing news. 64% of adults use it as their main news source and of course, social media then opens a whole new can of worms. Social media is the most popular type of online news, used by 44% of UK adults. 

So how bad is it?

So is the decline of print actually as bad as it’s made out to be? Well, circulation of national newspaper titles decreased from almost 22 million in 2010 to just 10.4 million in 2018. National daily titles have also gone from 13.3 million to 7 million.

Yet, national newspapers still rank highly when it comes to news sources. Ofcom found that, in the top 20 news sources, The Daily Mail was the most popular newspaper, followed by The Metro, The Sun and the Mail on Sunday. By still appearing in the top 20 news sources, it seems that print does still have a presence in mainstream media. 

Bring back print

Despite the undeniable fact that print has become less popular, there are still many who would argue that sticking to traditional news sources is the way forward. 

Reading newspapers and magazines is an experience; you make an effort to go out and buy them, and then the experience of reading them is more sensory than sitting in front of a screen. It can also be argued that print media is more reliable and credible than online; it’s rigorously checked before going to print and isn’t just uploaded at the click of a button before facts have been verified.

In reality, print still represents an unrivalled source of in-depth news, and if it disappears entirely, other outlets will have a challenge to fill its boots and take its place.

Looking to the future

Considering the figures relating to the decline of print publications and the booming growth of online news, it’s easy to think that the future holds little hope for print. 

However, could the ‘fake news’ controversy turn people away from online and social media news, and lead them to look for quality print journalism? Many have criticised social media news for being unreliable and not up to standard, including News Corp CEO Robert Thomson. He described Facebook news as a platform for “the fake, the faux and the fallacious” (…and as head of the company that once owned The News of the World, he should know all about that!)

With the recent scandals related to unregulated political advertising and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories having gained traction in traditional media, it’s possible that people may be becoming more suspicious of social media news. This might signal the resurrection of print journalism, but just last month, Facebook fought back. Now, the social network will be “supporting” news outlets including The New York Times and BuzzFeed News, by paying them to distribute their content. Facebook has a new section dedicated to “deeply reported and well sourced” news, in an attempt to ensure that social media news is reliable and sourced from what the company views as “quality journalists”.

So, if the only thing deterring people from reading social media news is their suspicions on its credibility and the damage to Facebook’s reputation doesn’t hold it back, the company may have taken the next step towards eliminating print entirely.

If people have assurance that what they’re reading online has passed the same checks as print news, then why wouldn’t they choose that over paying for a newspaper? People want trustworthy news and if they can now get this for free on social media, print journalism may have an even bigger challenge on its hands than first anticipated.