It’s no secret that the rise of the internet has led to the decline of printed journalism, which has created challenges for publishers looking to remain profitable in the digital era.
According to research from Enders Analysis the period from 2015 to 2016 saw British newspapers take a particularly noticeable hit, perhaps aided by a huge jump in smartphone ownership among over-55s, which leapt from 30% to 55%. The analysts also noted that newspapers are losing more than 30 times in print revenue what they are gaining from digital.
There are all kinds of graphs on the internet showing how newspaper circulation has dropped since the turn of the century. In March 2016, The Independent printed its last physical edition and became an online only publisher. Others, such as The Financial Times, have already started making some of their online content subscription only, and you may have noticed that The Guardian has started ending many of its articles with an appeal for donations.
With printed newspapers unlikely to experience any surge in popularity over the next few years, how much longer can their publishers continue to use sales levels in newsagents and supermarkets to subsidise their websites? In a decade or so, will we look back on this time as a golden age for consumers, who were able to access any news they wanted without paying a penny for it?
The big problem newspapers face is that it’s hard to persuade people to pay for something they have previously received free of charge. A 2009 study indicated that only 5% of internet users would continue to read their favourite news site if it started charging them to do so. That same year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, announced that it would start charging for all online content, but eight years on, it’s only sites like The Times and Sunday Times under the News Corp banner that have introduced a “subscribe to read more” model.
The future direction and economics of online media may well be dictated by social media, and Facebook in particular. With Facebook seemingly in the process of weeding out non-promoted content from its newsfeeds, it is possible that newspapers may have to play ball and allocate more of their budget to social media if they hope to bring in traffic.
It’s an interesting time for journalism as publishers make the transition from a dying form of media, to a new one they can barely sustain on its own, making the future of the industry a tough one to predict.