Are newspapers on their last legs?

By Sanjay Bose
Published August 02, 2014

Earlier this year, the newspaper industry in India was up in arms over a survey that claimed print circulation figures had hit an all-time low. The bone of contention was the Indian Readership Survey (IRS 2013).

The survey, jointly commissioned by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) and the Research Studies Council of India (RSCI), and carried out by market research firm The Nielsen Co. threw up statistics that set the cat among the pigeons.

Taking exception to the findings, leading newspapers condemned and contested the results of the survey vociferously. They stressed that the IRS was riddled with “shocking anomalies, which defy logic and common sense”. What’s more, the publications pointed to the fact that the survey completely ignores circulation, which is the very basis of readership, and completely flies in the face of audited circulation figures (ABC).

The IRS which measures the readership figures of publications, and is used as a currency by advertisers for their media plans, states that at last count India had 281.7 million newspaper readers.

Globally, India is hailed as the last bastion of printed news. Proof to back this claim can be found in steadily rising literacy rates, which have translated into a clamor for regional language publications, in numbers never witnessed earlier.

Even if one were to justify the angst of the newspaper publishers in relation to the IRS revelations, it is a fact that we are living in a time where a marked shift from traditional news platforms to online and mobile news sources, is all the rage. Undoubtedly, computers and smartphones have ushered in an era of instant news via Social Media. Wherever they are in the world, people can now access information, views and insights on any and every event that makes it to the headlines.

More importantly, the wider availability of instantaneous micro newsfeeds has changed the manner in which we consume news. Pew Internet observes: “In this new multi-platform media environment, people’s relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized, and participatory.” So what does the future portend for print editions of newspapers? Will Social Media platforms sound their death knell ultimately?

Ken Doctor, a long-time analyst and consultant on digital media, particularly newspapers, avers: “They are essentially counterintuitive products: older readers who may like the idea of ‘reading the paper’ in its traditional format don’t like reading online; younger readers who like reading online find it nonsensical to read yesterday’s news — and pay for it — when they can news of the moment free online.”

Newspapers are caught in the midst of a generational shift, as it were. To ease the transition for older readers who are still fond of the printed newspaper format, many publications have woken up to reality and now offer an online digital edition too.

However, on the flip side, certain studies state that there is little evidence to show that digital editions are popular with readers. Those who disagree with this trend maintain that newspapers are merely transplanting a print format into a medium that demands a very different product. This is far from a viable solution, they assert.

Even though there are fans on either side of the fence, it is imperative that newspapers must change with the times and stand up to the challenges posed by Social Media. Who knows, this may be the one sure-shot way of ensuring the glorious institution we call the print medium doesn’t bite the dust.

(Eastwest PR India)

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