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Jul 3, 2008

NEWS: Death of newspapers? Readership has never been higher

US: Death of newspapers? Readership has never been higher

Nytimes.com blogger Timothy Egan points to an interesting paradox about newspapers: how can we be talking about the death knell for newspapers when readership for many publications has never been higher? 

We have all seen the stories of 1,000 jobs being cut in the American newspaper industry, just this week the LA Times announced 150 editorial layoffs. However, Egan points out, "all of this bad news is coming at a time when the audience and reach of many newspapers has never been greater."

Although the Internet may have damaged the traditional newspaper, it has also "increased the readership of some newspapers ten-fold." 

US Newspaper websites attracted more than 66 million unique visitors in the first quarter of 2008 -- a record, and a 12 percent increase on a year ago, according to Nielsen Online analysis. Forty percent of all Internet users visit a newspaper site. 

"A visitor, it should be noted, is different from a reader, but it's the measurement of choice. The Web is the future," writes Egan.

However, online advertising accounts for only around 10 percent of total ad revenue for newspapers. In its present form, the Web format does not generate enough revenue to support a full reporting team at a national newspaper. This is an area that newspapers need to focus on, and currently only a few newspapers are doing successfully.

Egan also discusses another interesting business model for the future; could newspapers go down the route of non-profit national broadcasters such as the BBCCBC and National Public Radio? He discusses the possibility of a quality, independent media no longer driven by the search for ad revenues...

Save the Press

On the lobby wall of the newspaper where I got my first reporting job are the Thomas Jefferson words that journalists like to trot out as Independence Day nears:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Of course, Jefferson also said the only reliable truths in newspapers were the advertisements, and that he was happiest when not reading the papers...

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