Rather than be replaced by digital news, printed newspapers will continue to provide a complementary role alongside other media, The Newspaper Works’ Brian Rock has told a conference in Sydney.
At the PrintEx print expo at Sydney Showground, research and insights manager Mr Rock also said that newspaper circulation declines will level off, as will growth in digital newspaper media readership. The most likely outcome in the next few years is that digital will replace print as the dominant format, but that print will be around for at least the next 20 years.
There isn’t room for much more change in the amount of time users spend on digital devices, he explained, with ownership of PCs, mobiles and tablets is getting close to saturation, and universal high-speed Internet access not far behind. This will slow down the pace of change, which still leaves considerable time for ‘traditional media’, Mr Rock said.
He pointed out that even with Internet access at 97% for 14 to 44s, sixty seven percent read a printed newspaper in the last four weeks.
“People are consuming news better, faster and more efficiently. But once you hit 100 per cent, you can’t get more people doing it – you’ve just got to get them doing it more often.”
Assumptions about changes in news media platforms shouldn’t be based on flawed comparisons with the growth and decline of other media technology, Mr Rock said, such as DVDs and VHS, and CDs and cassette. In these cases the new formats completely replaced the old formats.
“Could this happen with printed newspapers? Probably not,” he said. “DVD did what VHS did but better. The same content, better performance, and based on completely different technology – DVD players.
“That doesn’t work with newspapers. I can’t play a VHS tape on my DVD player. But owning a smartphone doesn’t stop me from reading a printed newspaper.” Consumer relationships with media technology are different in the 21st century, he argued. “You don’t have that exclusivity – you can just pick up a newspaper, and you can switch between media – your desktop, your tablet, your phone. Very few people use one or the other.”
Different devices also met different needs for consumers, with printed newspapers ideal for leisurely browsing and reading long copy, he said. “It’s a different experience – there’s something about print. When people want to concentrate on something, to really spend some time with it, they prefer that tactile quality.”
Age and environment were also key factors, with a curve of digital newspaper readers by age expected to shift as consumers accustomed to reading news in digital formats grew older.
The 30 to 34 age group is currently the most likely to consume newspaper media digitally – a combination of people who have the money to buy the technology and who have an interest in news, Mr Rock said.
Older people, educated people, professional people are more likely to read newspapers, so the younger cohort are likely to adopt some of those habits as they go along, he explained.
“People carry their habits with them, and people will come into it and top up that curve. But their habits also change as they get older, which often slows the pace of change.”
He discussed a variety of forecasts predicting the decline of newspaper sales – including Rupert Murdoch’s comments of five to 10 years.
“If we took that five year estimation from when he made those comments in 2012, newspapers would be gone in two years’ time.”
The industry will continue to see restructuring – such as newspapers and TV stations sharing content, the lines between print and video blurring, and more sharing of content between mastheads such asThe Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, while digital printing could allow publishers to create more customised products, he said.
“The number of papers sold will diminish, page counts will continue to come down, but we expect it to plateau out.
“I think in 20 years there will be a smaller, but still substantial role for print.”