Earlier in June, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers released their annual World Press Trends Survey. There’s encouraging news and discouraging news in it, but there’s one constant: the importance of the newspaper in society. Not only are newspapers faced with an ever-evolving business model and the constant chase after revenues, it’s at the same time tasked with upholding a critical means for debate in a democratic society.
Digital disruption in Europe and Australia are reality now. While Latin American newspapers are still growing in terms of circulation and advertising, Asia and Africa have regions where digital disruption is significant, and regions where it isn’t (yet). These worldwide themes are the American newspaper situation writ large. Though there is growth in combined digital and print audiences, digital ad revenues aren’t close to making up losses in print ad revenues.
SEE ALSO: 3 Digital Trends for Publishers in 2014
Good News from the Survey
It’s not all doom. Global paid digital circulation is up sharply, at 60% for the year. Newspaper publishing revenues from print circulation and advertising have been stable globally at $163 billion (but still down from $187 billion in 2008). Over the last five years, paid digital circulation has risen more than 2,000%, and still has plenty of untapped growth.
Another encouraging finding is that although single copy sales of newspapers have fallen by 26% since 2008, subscription sales have fallen by a mere 8%. This indicates that subscribers are loyal, and have stronger customer relationships with newspapers.
The Biggest Challenge: Audience Engagement
Audience engagement remains the biggest challenge for newspapers in the US and around the world. Although 46% of web users visit newspaper websites, newspaper websites still represent a tiny portion of total internet content consumption, garnering only 6% of total visits and 1.1% of total time spent on the web. But the survey reveals that newspapers aren’t just sitting back in bewilderment. They’re working hard to increase audience engagement through methods like:
• Developing and sustaining social media strategies for audience and brand building
• Using database marketing to promote upcoming material and provide incentives to readers
• Improving website characteristics like navigation and refining pages based on audience interest
• Using analytics to build audience data, which can drive experience-enhancing improvements
You Can’t Ignore Mobile
The World Trends Press Survey also echoed another common refrain: mobile is where it’s at. Mobile phones and tablets now account for 20% of page views in the markets for which data is available. News engagement via tablets, as measured by time spent consuming news content, is equal to that of printed newspapers in the US, Germany, and France. Tablets in particular are important platforms for news consumption, and some news companies have actually subsidized devices to feed the preference for this platform even more. In other words, if you don’t have a mobile strategy, you’re falling behind.
Dangers of Putting “First” Before “Best
Newspapers can’t get sufficient revenues from digital publishing if they don’t provide high quality, engaging content that can get both readers and advertisers excited. Without this, there’s nothing to differentiate one brand from another among the throngs of information sources on the web.
People pick up headlines from a variety of sources, like Twitter. What happens is, once they’ve discovered a compelling headline, they often turn to credible news sources to flesh out the information. As just one current example, a World Cup follower may look at the World Cup sidebar on Twitter for scores, but then turn to The Guardian for in-depth coverage. In other words, quality of coverage often trumps being first with the headline.
Digital Disruption Worldwide Mirrors the US Experience
Though there are pockets of the world where digital disruption hasn’t affected newspapers as much, the digital disruption that has blown through the US is now hitting Europe and Australia, and shows no sign that it will leave the rest of the world unaffected. Audience engagement and mobile development are two of the most important ways newspapers are coping with digital disruption.
The good news is, digital circulation is up sharply throughout the world, and shows no sign of stopping, so the potential for audience growth is there. Everyone is still figuring out how to monetize all that potential audience growth, but newspapers are showing remarkable inventiveness in the face of this challenge.