Prediction: Newspapers face pricey future

In a recent Associated Press article European editors were interviewed about where they see the future of the newspaper. In the face of declining circulations and the onslaught of new media, you’d expect that they’d want to slit their wrists.

But no – the article reported the editors were “strikingly optimistic” about the future. In fact, it was reported that they saw the new media explosion more as an opportunity than a threat. The editors expressed confidence they could provide the content readers need – whether accessed on newsprint, a computer screen, a smart phone or a futuristic electronic scroll.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never subscribed to the claptrap of some zealots who prophesised the death of the newspaper. Then there are the nuts who still predict the end of the traditional media model in its entirety in the face of citizen media – but that’s another story.

For my part, I’ve consistently said that with the rise of online media and citizen media, the newspaper industry will not die, but continue to innovate, adapt and thrive.

In this country, newspapers that serve upper- to middle-income groups will be more affected than those serving lower-income groups, as a result of the cost of connectivity. Tabloids and weekend newspapers will continue to show growth, but dailies aimed at the upper or middle markets will be under the greatest pressure. For newspapers aimed at lower-income markets, content on cellphones represent the biggest opportunity or threat (depending on your view) due to healthy mobile penetration in these markets.

So what exactly will the newspapers of the future look like in this changing media environment? Here are a few predictions:

  • In the long term, newspaper circulations in general will fall, but in response they will become increasingly niched and expensive. Expect to pay a lot more for your newspaper in the future. They will be a luxury, lifestyle and status item. Advertisers will love them.
  • Print quality and paper may improve in some cases. Expect more glossy inserts to attract quality advertisers and give the reader more value for the loaded cover price.
  • Newspapers that concentrate on quality comment and in-depth, investigative articles as opposed to hard news articles will do better in the future. In fact, the European editors who were interviewed said that the media revolution may even allow them to return to the “deeper, more sophisticated journalism” of the past.
  • For sport reporting, the match report will have a limited lifespan and make way for deeper, analytical coverage, possibly with more opinion. This is happening already.
  • Newspapers that converge and integrate with their online presence, using interactive digital features and multimedia will do better than those that don’t.
  • Our dailies will be under more pressure than weeklies. Dailies tend to compete head-on with online media by focusing on hard-news articles. Weekend weeklies face less competition from online where there is a slowdown in weekend useage.
  • Dailies or weeklies (such as tabloids) that serve developing markets or lower-income group readers will in the short to medium term be almost unaffected and continue to grow in readership until internet connectivity becomes a viable option to these readers. An online presence via cellphones is a possible option for media in this category.
  • Classified and job advertising will be almost exclusively online and mobile-based in the future as a result of the web’s ability to present this data in a more efficient, searchable form.
  • Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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