Who Says Print is Dead?
The whole ‘print is dead’ debate has been knocking around some time now. Digital people say it is, print people say it isn’t. But despite the enormous migration to electronic media in recent years, new research shows that print media is very much alive and kicking. Not only that, we pay more attention to it too.
A recent study by Professor Neil Thurman of the University of Munich and City University, London found that in the UK, we spend an average of 40 minutes a day reading print versions of national newspapers, compared to 30 seconds a day reading news online and via apps. And in terms of how we consume the news, 89% of time is spent reading national newspapers in print format, 7% is read on mobiles and just 4% is read on a desktop.
Quite impressive statistics for a medium that is supposedly dead.
For years, the new media vanguard has preached ‘digital first’ and the death knell has sounded for iconic print titles such as men’s magazine FHM. While others, such as the Independent newspaper have gone digital-only.
Now, 20 years into the digital revolution, print is making something of a comeback.
Best-selling news and current affairs magazine Private Eye had its biggest ever print circulation in the second half of 2016, with the Christmas issue achieving the biggest sales figures in the title’s 55-year history, at 287,334 copies, according to ABC. The Economist and The Week also saw an increase in sales.
And the trend wasn’t unique to the UK. Across the pond, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all received boosts in their print subscriptions in 2016.
So what’s going on?
Last year was a significant news year for both countries, with the Brexit vote in the UK, the Conservative Party’s David Cameron stepping down as prime minister, and Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President. And when important things happen, be it socially, politically or financially, we want to read about from them from the most credible source. And there’s something about print that gives a sense of legitimacy. Published by well- established, authoritative news groups, print media invests a lot of time and effort on in-depth coverage, interviews, editorials and feature articles.
That’s not to say online media isn’t credible. But in an age of citizen journalism where anyone can be an online reporter or blogger, stories on Facebook and other sites aren’t always as credible as traditional newspaper articles. And online copy may not be subject to the same strict fact-checking guidelines as print media. Also, online news is designed to be skimmed. News is presented in bite-sized chunks that focus on the more sensational aspects of a story.
These factors, along with the rise of fake news sites has made some people wary of what they read online.
Secondly, as Thurman’s research found, consumers are more engaged when reading printed material. Unlike websites, which we scan, we take our time perusing our daily newspapers and magazines. And let’s face it – there’s nothing better than turning the crisp pages of The Sunday Times while sipping on our morning coffee.
The future of digital is print
The new owners of American news magazine Newsweek shocked everyone in 2014 by reintroducing its print edition, a little more than a year after the previous owners abandoned print for digital-only. They thought readers would happily pay for content that dives deeper into the week’s headlines instead of a 140-character tweet or a short-form recap.
The one constant across all mediums is the importance of compelling stories. Not all stories are appropriate for every medium, and PR practitioners must be strategic in how we leverage these channels to disseminate messages.
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