What is the future for your daily newspaper?

by Ken McEwen, Ken McEwen Public Relations

For as long as I can remember, people have been predicting the death of newspapers. Firstly, it was the immediacy of radio and television that was going to kill them off. Now, it is the easy distribution of news on internet.

But newspapers have proven much more resilient than the doom mongers have predicted.

Newspaper reader

There is no denying that newspapers in their current form are under pressure. Circulations have been falling since my early days working in a newspaper promotions department trying to devise tactics to maintain sales.

It was a salutary lesson in those days that whatever we proposed, the only way to lift sales was to deliver a strong, compelling news story. With somewhat dark humour, we would scan declining sales figures and remark that what we needed “was a good murder”.

Across the board the decline in UK newspaper circulation has accelerated in recent years. An OECD report last year revealed that UK newspaper circulation had fallen by 22% since 2007. That’s a pretty drastic decline and the timescale certainly correlates with the growth of the internet.

But where the internet has been slow to deliver is news at a really local level. Perhaps, that is one reason why my old paper, The Press and Journal, has held up better than its Central Belt rivals and remains Scotland’s top selling “broadsheet” newspaper (meaning broadsheet in style, not necessarily format, in these days of the tabloid-sized Scotsman).

Why is it that the internet has delivered a stronger body blow to newspapers than other broadcast media?

Firstly, unless you go to the bother of recording broadcast news, radio and television deliver the news to you when they want to – not when you necessarily want to receive it. Secondly, they decide the detail they give on each story, not you.

This article was published in IoD Scotland Mgazine Spring 2011

Like newspapers, the internet allows you to decide when to browse the news and the depth in which you will read the story. But, I find there is something strangely unsatisfying about reading a newspaper in the form of web pages.

I subscribe to two magazines on a regular basis. They are now both delivered to me electronically, but the page layout is exactly as it would be in printed format, with the added advantage of hyperlinks to relevant pages and a search ability built in.

Call me a philistine if you wish, but I actually now prefer to read the magazines (and books as well) on my iPad, rather than in paper format. If anything it is a more convenient way to read them, whether it be sitting in an armchair, on a plane, or at the breakfast table.

Newspapers in Scotland have not yet achieved that degree of convenience.

Because our house is beyond the reach of any sensible newspaper delivery boy, I do actually also have my daily newspapers delivered online. But, it is a far less successful arrangement.

For technical reasons the newspapers cannot be delivered to an iPad, so I have to sit in front of a laptop or computer monitor. Other major annoyances are that the page delivery is far less satisfactory. Moving around the pages is erratic and new pages are delivered and rendered far too slowly.

Once the Scottish newspaper industry gets round to delivering pages with the ease and convenience of my magazines and books, then it will just be a matter of waiting until the majority of the population have access to some form of tablet computer.

Without the costs of printing on an industrial scale, or the complex logistics of distributing newspapers around the country, the economics of the newspaper industry should be stronger than ever and the cost and convenience for the reader considerably more attractive.

At that point we may not only see an end to declining circulation. If the subscription model is right, we may actually see a considerable resurgence.

© Ken McEwen Public Relations, 2011. www.kenmcewen.com
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