For any business enterprise to survive, the basic law of demand and supply needs to exist. Newspapers or any print media for that matter are finding it harder to combat the competition from the digital print world. Let us look at how printed newspapers are faring in this digital age.
The rise of Internet usage worldwide has signalled a steady decline for newspapers in terms of readership, which directly affects its revenues. The Internet offers a wide variety of choices which are impossible for newsprint to compete with. While newspapers offer news based on a standard cycle, usually daily, the Internet offers news at a click. Events do not happen in tandem with a newspaper’s print cycle; a sudden and unexpected weather forecast, a major explosion, or the outcome of an urgent meeting could come at any time of the day. A newspaper is only able to report these incidents the next day. The internet provides constant and regular news feed which make it a better place to find the latest events from around the world.
Newspapers are also physically printed and then delivered. This mode of delivery is not without hiccups, such as bad weather and missed deliveries. Who hasn’t experienced at least one morning with a soggy newspaper?
The digital world also involves more sense organs and therefore makes the presented information more engaging. It is possible to read, watch and hear news reports. A visual presentation of a devastating hurricane or a massive bomb attack conveys a much deeper impact on the viewer. Hyperlinks embedded in content can greatly enhance the reading experience. It is now possible to look up the history, other related information, and even different opinions all while reading news online. For example, when reading about the ongoing GST bill debate, a reader wants to read more about its history, probably presented as a hyperlink in the online article he is reading. He can easily click the hyperlink to find out the history of the bill and then come back to the original article with a more in depth knowledge. These features and enhancements are not possible with a printed newspaper.
A newspaper also has limited content and usually offers only one point of view. The ability to read reports from various sources is an easy possibility. Search engines enable a reader to streamline the content that is interesting and saves time and patience by avoiding the endless wading through pages and pages of news that is not relevant or interesting. Let us take an example of a car enthusiast who wants to keep up with the latest in the automobile industry. The average newspaper will not always carry the latest developments in the automobile world. It has to cater to the masses with their myriad interests and therefore can only spare some space to any automotive news. So for the car enthusiast, the Internet is a far more viable place for getting updates.
Most of the news on the Internet is also available without any cost. Even if we take the top twenty newspapers in the world and imagine subscribing to their print editions, the cost would be quite substantial. However, most of this very information is available on the Internet. So it is only natural that the average reader would choose the free version.
One of the biggest reasons for the decline in newspaper revenue is the massive reduction of advertising income. The digital medium, with its ability to present advertisements using interactive shapes and sounds, is a much more attractive field for companies to advertise in. The loss of advertising space immediately reduces the revenue for a newspaper. This loss translates in a reduction of employees, especially foreign correspondents. The reduced number of foreign correspondents means less coverage of foreign events which could reduce an already declining readership. So it becomes a vicious cycle that looks impossible to get out of. The big brand newspapers are able to see a rise in readership for their online publications. A lot of this is because of the credibility and familiarity they have managed to build over the years. The road ahead looks even tougher for smaller publications.
Reading in a digital medium is not without challenges. Reading styles have changed. The availability of hyperlinks means that a reader stays on one chunk of content for a much shorter time before moving to another website, page or hyper link. So there is an even more overwhelming need to keep the reader focussed on one item. There are also certain sections of readers who still prefer the tactile nature of a printed newspaper. However they are an ever shrinking section.
It is important to realise that this is not the end of reading. The human civilization is evolving and new things are adopted and old, outdated ones are left behind. Humans did not start with the printed paper. There were scrolls, papyrus and handwritten texts well before there were newsprints. Adapting to a new medium of reading could be just another notch in the evolution of mankind.