The end of newsprint?

Today marked a significant watershed in my life. This morning, as I do most mornings, I walked to the nearby newsagent. I wanted to buy a baguette for my breakfast, and copies of the two newspapers that I read every day. I bought the baguette. But I bought no newspaper. As I stood looking at the piles of papers, I suddenly asked myself why I was bothering, as I have apps on my iPad that allow me to read both the papers in question in their precise printed form. And so I went home and read the newspapers on the iPad. And I have to admit that it is possible, just possible, that I will not buy a hard copy newspaper ever again.

Of course we already know that newspapers, particularly those that are not coming to grips with the internet age, are dying. A number of them have already folded, and others are soldiering on, but precariously. Others are trying to save themselves by offering access to their websites in return for a payment.

Until recently I didn’t think that web-based newspapers were the future of news reporting. No matter how powerful the computer or how chic the laptop, it just wasn’t how one would read the news over breakfast. So I thought that the more astute newspapers would survive and would be able to continue to print hard copy. Now, with the phenomenal growth of the iPad and other tablet computers, this may be changing. I actually now find it easier to manipulate the newspaper with my fingers than to mess around with the paper pages. And I am not altogether alone in this.

I have a subscription to an iPad-based newspaper subscription service that, for less than £1 a day, lets me download all my normal newspapers in the exact print format. How can I lose?

And yet, I wonder what the future holds for news reporting. First, will there be a viable business model that sustains a network of reporters and correspondents for a coherent news organisation, not just services that take copy from others? Will advertisers support the kind of model I am now using? Will the anarchy of the internet, and the fact that anybody can set up a news site, destroy the reliability of news reporting? Will the tabloid world change, or maybe even disappear?

An uncertain world lies ahead.

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6 Comments on “The end of newsprint?”

  1. Steve B Says:

    I have not bought a daily newspaper for the last 5 years nor do I pay a daily subscription realising that you can get most of it for no cost at all.
    We Scots are a canny lot.

    By the way enjoyed your RTE radio slot on Sunday.

  2. Martin Says:

    I stopped buying newspapers on a daily basis a number of years ago. I subscribed to a few online services that were not available freely online. When they became freely available, I saw no reason to subscribe.

    These strange, uncertain times have been around for a while now. I was given a couple of newspapers for free last week in a promotion (either to temporarily boost reader stats or try to tempt people to buy regularly, I guess). Perhaps unsurprisingly, they didn’t manage to engage my attention in the way they used to. I did, however, enjoy the sudoku puzzles and other games…

    It’s hard to resist linking to some relevant stories that touch HE, so here goes:

  3. I think you are correct about the uncertain future. Newspapers need a number of strategies to survive. The publishing (i actually wrote printing first) of a coherent newspaper and the delivery of it electronically in a way that respects both the necessary coherence of the paper product as well as the ability of the electronic newspaper to give me more in personal curation and instant news.

    The other imponderable is possibility of a world newspaper. Years ago my dad bought the Irish and British papers on Sunday. With the internet I can buy the Irish TImes and New York Times daily for less than the paper copy of either. It means that I get a local and world perspective. As the NYT knows my preferences it gives me O’Dowd, Krugman etc when I log in and I can get through a lot sometimes without being overtly conscious that I have moved from the Irish to the world paper.

    In summary, I believe that the newspapers that will survive will have the strength and coherence of a news organisation but an unending variation on how I can access its news, columns and blogs. It won’t be the presenters of others’s news that will be all the future but as you noted it won’t be all the newspapers either.

    I enjoy your blog.

    Best Regards

  4. Paul Martin Says:

    Oddly I bought 2 magazines yesterday to see if that model was viable. We all enoyed them so the answer is an efficacious yes.

  5. Scotto Voce Says:

    cant quite tear myself away from newsprint and miss certain nuances with online versions. What’s ‘above the fold’…. i’m also a Comms Director (in a university) and, increasingly, our student centred comms targeted firmly at social media. Don’t know a singel student who buys newspapers. I give the Herald/Scosman 5 years max before a merger or simple extinction…..

  6. Vince Says:

    I think I would argue somewhat differently.
    A newspaper was always a relatively tied geographically, and socially. Being read on the throne and tube, not so much on a bus. Yes in a factory cafe, farm kitchen and teabreak on a building site, but no for most other work places like shops. Yes for the sports and the racing form. Yes for national news but dismal for anything outside these days.
    But the numbers in the UK do not shake out in other European countries since far far less newspapers are and were sold across all social classes. Frankly, were the sales numbers for ‘paper sales in Ireland to translate to the UK there would be Times Corespondent on the moon, so much cash would be sloshing about in their coffers.
    Anyhoo’s, this will come down to the effectiveness of the advertising on the internet. Something I don’t for one moment think will work as envisioned.

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