Print screen

Newspapers are holding their own in the Internet economy.
Director of Communications World Association of Newspapers*

A vote for newspapers ©Reuters/Bianchi

The excitement over new media and their vaunted utility is easy to understand. What is more difficult to grasp is why conventional wisdom holds that the rise of digital media must mean the “decline” of newspapers, which have now been around for more than 400 years. Because the conventional wisdom is wrong.

The “death” of newspapers is an oft-repeated myth, based on false assumptions and shopworn stereotypes. Consider the facts.

Newspapers represent a US$190 billion industry globally. More than 550 million people worldwide buy a newspaper every day. Newspapers attract at least 1.6 billion readers a day.

Global newspaper circulation sales (paid-for titles) were up 2.3% in 2006, the last year for which figures are available. If free newspapers are added, circulation increased by 4.6%

Speaking of free newspapers, they represent 41 million copies a day, with two-thirds of them distributed in Europe. Many of their readers are new readers of newspapers.

Where Internet and broadband penetration are high, so too is newspaper readership. There are more than 11,200 paid-for titles worldwide.

Newspapers remain the world’s second largest advertising medium, with about 30% of the entire advertising market, exceeding the combined budget of radio, outdoor, cinema, magazines and the Internet. Combined with magazines, print is the world’s largest advertising medium with a 42% share.

More than $6 billion was invested in newspaper technology in the past 18 months. The industry has nearly two million employees worldwide.

Why the disconnect between reality and conventional wisdom?

Part of it results from too much being inferred from the gradual drop in circulations seen in some developed nations, primarily in the US and in some countries in western Europe. Some of it comes from the investment community, which discounts newspapers’ healthy profit margins–double-digit in many cases, the envy of other industries–and focuses entirely on future forecasts that are, at best, debatable.

And some of it simply comes from commentators who extrapolate their own media habits to the public at large, or have a vested interest in digital developments.

None of this is to discount the challenges. Circulation has been on a slow decline in some western countries for years. But so has the time spent with most other activities–who hasn’t complained that modern life is full of everything but time?

The media scene never stands still, but it is important to reflect on newspapers within the rapidly changing media matrix, where fragmentation and new forms of media consumption make life more challenging for the consumer.

The Internet is, by definition, fragmented. So is television, with its vast array of terrestrial, cable and satellite (and now web-based) channels. But newspapers–dear, old newspapers–continue to deliver broadly stable audiences and demographics. According to Forrester Research, 36% of regular Internet users have reduced their TV viewing, whereas 64% of regular Internet users confirm they have not changed their newspaper consumption, despite the growing market alternatives.

Newspapers are also expanding their multimedia portfolios, extending their reach–not only on the Internet, where they are already ubiquitous, but on handheld devices, telephones, print-on-demand installations in hotels, podcasts–rapidly, on any platform that emerges.

Take The Washington Post in the US–in print, a regional newspaper, with distribution on the eastern seaboard of the US. But online, it’s reachable everywhere. More people read the Post now than at any time in its history.

Or take The Guardian in the UK–or rather in cyberspace, where its growing US audience prompted it to start an on-line US edition. It’s not a paper circumscribed by geography.

No matter on what platform they appear, newspapers are still recognisable as newspapers. This is due to the nature of their content–deep, broad, informed, and selected–that is unmatched anywhere else. Think about it–news aggregators, blogs, news agencies, even the local newsreader on television, could not do their job without reading newspapers, with their incomparable staffs, setting the agenda.

Newspapers are businesses, but they’re not like other businesses. Their traditional role in democratic societies is to provide the necessary information needed to make decisions, and to act as a watchdog against corruption and other wrongdoing. That has not changed in 400 years. Not “sexy”, perhaps, but essential.

Rather than proclaiming the “death” of newspapers, we should be doing everything in our power to create conditions in which the independent press can thrive. Much depends on it.

*The World Association of Newspapers maintains a World Press Trends database and annually publishes World Press Trends, a statistical compendium of the newspaper industry in 234 countries and territories where newspapers are published. WAN, the global association of the world’s press, represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and worldwide press groups.

©OECD Observer No 268 June 2008

UPDATE  16 JUNE 2010: Are newspapers holding their own? See latest OECD study.




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • COP21 Will Get Agreement With Teeth: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on Bloomberg

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.

  • Climate change: “We should not disagree when scientists tell us we have a window of opportunity–10-15 years–to turn this thing around” argues Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Unemployment
Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016