Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Newspapers' Last Post - Print Books Next?

An American Research Centre,  the University of Southern California, is about to release the results of a major study into the future of printed Newspapers in the US, and if you have shares in any of them it won't make comfortable reading.

Newspaper sales have been falling in the US and in the UK for some time, and UK columnists have been predicting the impending cessation of printed newspapers for over a year to my certain knowledge, but their assessment hasn't been based on research, just insider observations.

The US research, to be published in January 2012, indicates that by 2016 there will be only four major print newspapers in the US - the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.  They also expect small, niche newspapers to continue to exist in that format beyond 2016.  In a separate piece of research, carried out by polling experts YouGov, it is anticipated that the Amazon Kindle Fire, expected to be released in the UK in January, will lead a tablet revolution in the UK.  That revolution is already seriously underway in the US and is almost certainly underpinning the transition from print to on-line news media.

Given that the US is twelve to twenty-four months ahead of the UK in technology adoption this indicates that print newspapers could be dead in the water in the UK by 2018 and by 2020 it is probable that the rest of Europe will fall in line.  Worryingly for newspapers readying to transition to on-line presence is additional research by YouGov that indicates that on-line advertising doesn't work, and traditionally newspapers have been part funded by that medium.

It looks like there will be a need for alternative ways of funding newspapers if they are to exist in any meaningful way.  Many are offering subscription rates for on-line content, but take up isn't great right now.  From what I've seen of the offers they look expensive, especially for someone who doesn't routinely buy a newspaper  anyway.  What would appeal me to me would be a subscription that allowed me to download a copy of one newspaper today, a different one in a couple of days' time, perhaps a magazine that took my fancy at the weekend.  As I used up my subscription the owners of the on-line media would be paid a part of it - now that's a service a company like Amazon could put together and run handsomely.  Also, it's something Rupert Murdoch's News International could put together, as long as subscribers were happy to limit themselves to his admittedly extensive range of newspapers, periodicals and access to his Sky network.  I suspect that the current trend for newspapers to place very short summaries of the news on their websites for free will continue, with the carrot being to use your subscription to access the full story plus the rest of the day's newspaper.

The move from print to electronic media brings mixed blessings - I'm not a sentimentalist where technological developments are concerned, but I appreciate that many people are concerned at the passing of familiar ways of working.  However its only a heartbeat in time since computers entered the daily working life yet nobody seriously expects any business or work activity to not use them today.  I expect a transition from newspaper employed journalists to increasing numbers of freelance writers; heck, even bloggers may get a look in as the formats are changed to reflect the new media!  Newspapers will become less discrete and more reflective of what is happening now, as television news does already.

And newspapers aren't the only area where print will decline.  Books are being eclipsed by the ebook movement and the increasing functionality of the new tablets such as the Kindle Fire, Kobo Vox and Nook Color coupled with their inherent portability are going to accelerate the process.  I haven't stumbled across any formal research to indicate when print books will cease to be a meaningful part of the industry yet - I've guesstimated five to ten years for all but the niche bookshops to disappear but perhaps, based on the academic predictions for newspapers , I'm over-estimating the demise?

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