“It has been an extraordinarily positive 12 months for the global newspaper industry,” Timothy Balding, director-general of the World Association of Newspapers, told his annual convention meeting in South Korea this week. But according to a Wall Street Journal commentary printed the same day, “The news business is in trouble. Readership and viewership are declining, public trust is plummeting, and advertisers are beginning to wonder whether they’re getting their money’s worth.”
Are we talking about the same newspaper industry? Well, yes, but the Journal’s commentary by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, was discussing US newspapers while Balding, on the other hand, was citing global numbers. But if you strip out Asia from Balding’s equations, then Europe and US are not doing too awfully well (reason for doom and gloom). But Asia is going gangbusters, led by China, Japan, and India.
Balding was quoting the 2005 edition of WAN”s annual survey of press trends. It points out that the world’s five largest newspaper markets are China (93.5 million copies sold daily), India (78.8 million), Japan (70.4 million), the US (55.6 million), and Germany 22.1 million.
“Sales increased in China, India, and Japan in 2004, and declined in the US and Germany,” the report said.
Asia enjoyed an overall 4.1% circulation increase in 2004, but it was down 1.4% in Europe and 1.0% in the US (although the Newspaper Association of America recently reported a 2.1% circulation decrease for the six months ending in March, 2005 – the largest such decline in 10 years.) But mix all those numbers together and the world’s total circulation of dailies increased 2.1% in 2004 with more than 395 million people buying a newspaper every day.
The report emphasized that of the world’s top 100 daily circulation newspapers, three-quarters are published in Asia.
The report left unanswered why Asia newspaper readership is growing while in Europe and the US it is in decline. But the answer may well lay with Internet penetration.
In Europe and the US the industry is in no doubt it is losing readership to the Internet. According to Internetworldstats.com 35.5% of Europeans have access to the Internet and in North America, including Canada, its up to 67.4% of the population. But in Asia, only 8.4% of the population is on the Internet. It doesn’t take too much analysis to figure out that where Internet penetration is high newspapers are losing readership and where it is very low newspapers are gaining readership.
So there probably is a direct proportion between the growth of newspaper circulation in much of developing Asia and the percentage of Asians in those markets having access to the Internet. Countries like Malaysia and Singapore are, however, seeing increases in both newspaper circulation and Internet usage, but some of that has something to do with how well their newspapers very cleverly converge with their web sites.
WAN said that Internet traffic for newspaper web sites grew 32% last year with Internet advertising revenues up 21%.
Global newspaper advertising revenues jumped 5.3% in 2004, but that was led by a 29% increase in China. The US and Europe each saw 4% increases.
WAN’s research on free dailies and format changes in Europe was particularly interesting. In Spain, free tabloid newspapers aimed at the morning commuter, are now responsible for 40% of newspaper circulation. In Italy it is 29%, Denmark 27% and Portugal 25%.
And in 2004, 56 newspapers switched from broadsheet to compact with few broadsheets now left in Europe. Globally 36% of all newspapers are now compact size.
But even as Balding was trumpeting how well print was doing globally, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the New York Times, was telling Korean journalists at the conference that the Times was transitioning from becoming a print medium to becoming digital based.
According to the Korea Herald, Sulzberger told journalists, “We want to make sure that as we make a transition from a print-based to digital based business we have to be financially viable so that we can continue to meet our mission of offering high-quality news and entertainment services. The Times recently announced recently it will charge for several columns which are now on its web site at no cost.
As the newspaper industry celebrates its 400th birthday, it can take some pride that about 1 billion people every day read a newspaper.
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