Last week saw further rationalisation announced in the Scottish newspaper industry, as well as the publication of both the National Readership Survey (NRS) and six-month ABC figures for regional publications, with print sales for most titles continuing to decrease.
But while certain detractors pounce on the negatives with ill-disguised glee, there is a different story to tell: Scottish news brands are still a key source of information and remain a key part of everyday life in this country.
The publication of data like the six-month ABC figures and the National Readership Survey always provides ammunition for those determined to write off our industry, but the new figures show that 91% of Scots over 15 still read news brands on a regular basis. The key is they read on different platforms and with different habits and the old measurement of print sales has for some time not been a fair representation of industry success.
As companies continue to adjust to the explosion in demand for digital formats and read-it-when-it-suits content, it is essential some balance is brought to the debate. The fortunes of individual companies ebb and flow, as they do in all industries, but the NRS figures gave plenty reasons for optimism. For example, 41% of Scottish adults over 15 are consuming Scottish daily titles, 56% are reading ‘quality’ news, 52% consume ‘mid-market’ news brands and 76% are reading ‘popular’ titles on a daily basis. In Scotland, news brands are popular with the vast majority of 15+ adults, across print and online platforms, despite the explosion of alternative sources in the past decade.
New publishers such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, and even Apple watches have muscled in on the news game, yet 41% of Scottish adults still read print newspapers every day. While this figure has indeed decreased over the past decade, it’s not as alarming when read in the context of proliferating information sources and growing online news brand audiences.
Given newspapers’ place as a primary source of basic information like television listings, share prices and race cards has long gone, this is a remarkable position to hold in a world where news is updated 24 hours a day on a multitude of platforms.
Consumers now have a huge range of choices, not just of providers but within their chosen brand. Herald readers can use an app, the website or a paper. The Courier readers can choose if they prefer print or online, while Johnston Press is building a new readership around its increasingly successful entertainment website WOW247.
The ABC figures released last week noted that local newspapers across the UK saw an increase of 26.7% in unique visitors over the six month time period to June 2015 aginst last year’s figures. Trinity Mirror’s local news websites are now attracting more than 2 million users per day.
While there is still more innovation needed in growing a sustainble digital future for newspapers, the industry is overall adjusting to the trend. Soon we will be using diffferent ways to measure readership, with the NRS itself set to change in reflection of digital trends – but more on that in a future post.
We can’t deny that with few exceptions print sales are decreasing, as this week’s ABC figures demonstrate, and companies will continue to examine their business models to secure their future.
The reality is that innovation in new markets means audiences are bigger than ever and despite well-documented challenges, newspaper companies remain profitable. The National shows that with the right publication for the right market, there is still very much a place for print.
There may be fewer readers of hard copies overall, but they are being replaced by legions of phone and tablet readers who are happy to pay for the services they receive. A recent Ofcom Scotland report found that Scots now spend an average of 19.9 hours online each week while no less than 63% adults now own a smartphone. This must impact how we all consume media, including news brands.
The last 20 years have been difficult, and the future will be far from easy, but the demand remains for what the industry produces even if the shape of our businesses will continue to change.
In this we are far from alone, but the vital role our titles play in their communities means the scrutiny and criticism is all the more intense. And this week’s figures are a timely reminder that people still want news. They always will.