The recent Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures for newspaper sales for January-June 2016 show an alarming decrease for nearly all Irish newspaper titles, with the demise of the industry itself now, for many, inevitable.
Of the national newspapers, The Irish Times dropped 5.5 percent compared to the first half of last year, The Irish Independent is down 6.4 percent, The Irish Examiner 6.7 percent and The Evening Herald 8.4 percent in the same period. Most daily tabloids are down, apart from the Irish Sun, which saw a rise of 4.6 percent year on year.
The Sunday Independent dropped 6.7 percent year, The Sunday Business Post 3.5 percent, The Sunday Times 6.4 percent and The Sunday World 8.9 percent. The Irish Mail on Sunday fell by 7.2 percent while the Irish Sun on Sunday recorded the only rise in circulation at +9 percent.
Overall, the circulation of daily print titles was 5.7 percent lower and of the Sundays 6.3 percent lower.
Globally, the threat to newspapers is epidemic. In May 2016, the 121-year-old Tampa Bay Tribune, Florida, ceased publication; in March, the London Independent and Independent on Sunday ceased their print publications and November 2015 saw Russia’s only independent English-speaking title The Moscow Times end its daily edition in favour of a weekly format.
In 2013, The Washington Post was sold to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P Bezos for $250m. In September 2010, the Chairman and Publisher of The New York Times announced to an International Newsroom Summit that: “We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD”. The Guardian, whose web edition is the world’s second most popular English-language newspaper website – after the Daily Mail online, has shed 200 jobs and clocked up losses of £69m for the last financial year with falls in both print and digital revenue leading to an £8m fall in total turnover to £209.5m. Digital revenues were £81.9m, down almost £2m from the preceding year as Facebook and Google ate up the bulk of the money it had made from mobile advertising.
Based on current trends, commentators have predicted that only the Sunday and weekend newspapers will survive in a culture immersed in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Youtube and with the proliferation of citizen journalism offering free ‘news’ content.
What New Media offer is ‘free’ news as it happens from an infinite number of sources around the globe; in the age of New Media, traditional values of accuracy, accountability and professionalism are at risk from unverifiable facts, unconfirmed sources and the constant need for instant news; and gossip.
With daily newspapers, today’s news is essentially yesterday’s, or this morning’s at best. Newspapers have made a concerted effort to shift content towards analysis and commentary, but this hasn’t been enough.
What the recent ABC gures don’t reveal is where these disenfranchised readers are migrating. The loss of newspaper revenue may be partly attributable to growing internet usage and online culture, but this does not necessarily mean those same readers are now reading news online.
A decline of 10,000 readers for a national newspaper does not equate to an additional 10,000 people reading or accessing news online. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media account for most internet usage, so perhaps not all migrated readers/users will be regular perusers of the Guardian online edition.
A ‘cornerstone of democracy’ for over 400 years is now in danger of imploding. Attempts by newspapers to embrace New Media by offering pay walls for access to online content have so far been largely unsuccessful (though the Guardiannow boasts 50,000 ‘subscribers’); cynics point to the obvious – there is simply too much ‘free’ news to be harnessed online.
Print Media’s only hope is to reinvent their current business model and somehow embrace their biggest rivals. What that does for journalism is another story.