Newspapers will be extinct by 2017 in the US! Thats a big statement and was the title of the talk given at Beijing Foreign Studies University yesterday by blogger, futurist and entrepreneur Ross Dawson. Ross also predicts that by, 2019 and 2031 newspapers in the UK and China respectively will no longer be relavent. It was a fascinating talk and one that provoked an interesting discussion. I personally think 2017 is a pretty conservative estimate. I should include a disclaimer that extinct means that newspapers in their current form i.e. news on paper, print news will no longer be relavent or will account for less than 2% of news consumption.
In case you can’t see the map clearly it was hard to photograph in a dimly lit lecture theatre Ross’s map of dates extinctions for newspaper extinction across the globe are on his excellent blog.
As the talk was in China, the discussion mainly focused on whether or not the 2031 date would be accurate with many Chinese in the audience saying that it was difficult to give a definitive date and that China was very complex with different layers of society and that in rural areas many still purchased newspapers. Yet less than 2% of the audience had bought newspapers that day, granted the majority of the room were students and we were in Beijing but most were journalism students and many of whom chose to consume their news online or via mobile phones
Currently the newspapers print stories that are old by at least 4-8 hours if not more so they have to offer more to the reader other than regurgitating old stories. Ross highlighted the success of the weekly magazine The Economist as one publication that is bucking the trend. It has seen revenue grow in the last few years whilst almost all newspapers have declined. Ross suggested that people are buying the Economist because they value the insight and analysis the writers provide. It is a weekly publication and does not generally rely on time specific news, more the analysis of the events in a much wider context. Well its hard to see why newspapers who have daily and weekly columnists not catch on to this idea and launch their own in depth analysis led magazine. Yet none have tried, or possibly even looked at experimenting with this format. Whats more it doesn’t have to be economics or politcally specific. I’m sure if one of the major newspapers gave their environmental columnists a bit more space to develop their articles and opinions there would be enough demand for quality weekly publication. It’s this lack of experimentation or lack of real change or direction that I find most frustrating.
Having said that, I think most people agree there will come a time when printing news on paper will not become economically viable. It’s just that right now the technology isn’t quite there yet to replicate the feel of reading a newspaper. We are still in the infancy of tablet computers, digital inks and foldable screens, but as technology develops the move away from print media is surely going to happen.
Newspapers aren’t fairing much better in the online world. They are caught in two minds as they can’t keep up with the realtime news updates that twitter or Facebook or aggregated feeds can provide and the majority or newspapers are just shovelling their print versions onto their websites. Changing very little by adding a few videos but not really taking full advantage of the internet’s capabilities. Very few newspapers are really experimenting with their online presence and their business models. Currently the model is unsustainable and the only solution that they have come up with so far is a pay-wall.
Now the pay-wall idea is not new and was introduced early on in the internet years and roundly abolished but has come back into play with the Times of London and more recently the New York Times putting up walls of differing types. The Times of London has built a very tight and isolating wall allowing for very little interaction with social media online. The New York Times perhaps learning from the mistakes allows a limit of 20 stories a month for free if you are arriving from social media sites. I think most people agree its too early to really analyze the success of the pay-wall but one thing is for sure that newspapers in general aren’t adapting very well to the online market. We have seen revenue tumble online and traditional funders of newspapers, advertisers have a much more choice online where they can advertise.
The Huffington Post was mentioned during the talk and how it was an incredibly successful economic model of aggregating news and despite most of its content coming from other sources was a success. Despite getting most of its content for free and not paying its bloggers it is a model that worked. Personally I think it was terrible that so many people who contributed so much to the Huffington Post received very little or nothing when it was sold to AOL but there is something in which aggregated news under one umbrella worked. I haven’t really seen any newspapers looking at this and trying to do something similar under their own brand.
Their inability to adapt to the change from print to online reminds me of the similar battle for online music sales in which Apple a computer company with no background in music dominates the market now. Will we see the same shift in the media landscape? Will new players enter the media landscape and dominate the future? Im not sure but I can’t see all the big traditional newspapers lasting as most of them have not embraced the digital age at all.
Personally I can’t see all the newspapers surviving some are just to set in their ways and don’t have the ability to change. I hope Im wrong but I hope the ones that do survive manage to do so by evolving and providing better and more relavent content to their readers. Perhaps focusing in on different areas such as foreign news, sports, environment, economics etc, getting well established bloggers, photographers, videographers in those fields to contribute and create more interesting content and displaying it in a new and novel ways that make the most out of the capabilities of the internet and or tables mixing good and interactive design, print, video and photography.