Newspaper Are Dying

Intelligent comment is rare these days. So is intelligence for that matter. An exception follows. But first:-

News Up Papers Down
The true measure of print sales decline
I hope to come back later to look at the latest set of ABC figures. But, for the moment, just note the totals. In the month of November, the 11 daily paid-for national titles sold an average of 8,897,221 copies a day. Just one year ago (before The Independent's launch of i), the 10 titles together totalled 9,540,993.

In other words, despite the addition of a new newspaper, sales of Britain's main national morning dailies have fallen by 6.75% in 12 months. That's a true picture of the accelerating decline of print. We have to take account of important factors, such as publishers giving up bulk sales and retreating from foreign sales.

Even so, allowing for those reductions, the downward pressure on circulations continues apace. One further point: the free morning paper, Metro, quietly increases its distribution, up 2.42% year-on-year across the country but, notably, up 4.42% in its main area, London. Over the last six months, Metro's London distribution averaged 780,000 a day. Meanwhile, users of virtually all the newspaper websites go on rising month by month. In front of our eyes, the press business is changing shape.
This is going on while book sales are going too. Or, at all events while libraries are being downsized. Access to novels, what one would have called books is moving towards the Amazon Kindle and similar devices.


From It's not only the Liberals whose numbers are shrinking

The Daily Mail and the Sun are both high-quality entertainews packages, perfectly pitched at their target audiences.

The rest of the papers do seem to be in steep quality decline, though I’m not sure what exactly is the cause.

Budget cuts? Big factor in the godawful quality of the foreign coverage these days, I suspect, as well as specialist areas like health and science. Far too much of a typical newspaper is made up of newswire reports plus press releases - and they’re often non-stories, or delivered without any critical input (Ben Goldacre of BadScience is constantly picking papers up for this.) [ Goldacre pushes Global Warming; believe him if you want - Editor ]

Editorial lines? The Guardian, Indy and Mail [ sic ] are whingy and self-righteous - the Mail can be too, but it seems to do outrage rather better than them.

Inability to balance the “entertainews” mixture? The Telegraph has discovered a rather disturbing penchant for pretty and very young girls only tangentially related to the story - a bit leery really, and an obvious attempt to mirror the Mail’s attempt at a celeb mag/newspaper hybrid. The Mirror tries far too hard to be serious to be a proper tabloid these days, sometimes I fear it’s going to mutate into a toned-down version of the Socialist Worker.

Overreliance on “star columnists”? This used to be a big win for the newspapers, but higher quality comment pieces are free online, and with the ability to interact below the line. Not sure this is something papers can continue to compete on.

Lack of investigative journalism/high quality analysis? This is the thing the blogosphere can’t compete with the press on. The NYT sometimes runs top notch analysis that is the result of getting subject experts spending 2-3 months of data-mashing, something I’ve not seen much of in the British press. Big scoops still draw paper sales, but they’re rarer, and increasingly tackier. Gossip and leaks rather than in-depth investigation form most scoops, but they’re often just tittle-tattle.

Inability to keep up with the 24-hour media? Leaks make it to the blogs, to online operations, and to the TV news so that they’re often old news by the time they make the front pages. In fact “dead sheet” papers are often behind the curve with everything. This suggests that the direction is strongly towards online services, but what can they actually provide to make them a distinctive offering?

The problem with online services is that it’s hard to fund the things that papers actually can do - complex investigations, overseas reportage, heavy-duty analysis. And if papers are bulked out with newswire and press release content, you might as well get it from Google News. I don’t think papers should bother trying to compete with rolling news to keep up with the “news froth”.

They should be either heading upmarket, providing serious weighty and expert investigation and analysis (Economist, Financial Times, bits of the NYT on a good day) or go a little lower for the complete “gossip, entertainment, news and outrage” (Sun/Mail). The Telegraph and Guardian are neither here nor there, and are rightly paying the price. Attempting to read either of them these days makes my eyes burn, and my brain want to give up in disgust. Funnily enough, if I read a copy of the Sun or the Mail in a waiting room, I develop egodystonia and a mild sense of guilty pleasure, but they’re actually good fun and surprisingly cleverly written.