Steve Dempsey: 'Social media now top for news as mobiles driving digital growth'
Just how tough the present day has become for print US newspapers was underlined by some new research on news consumption in that market.
According to the Pew Research Centre, social media platforms have now overtaken print newspapers as a news source for Americans - 20pc of US adults say they often get news via social media, while 16pc get their news from newspapers.
Print's popularity persists among those 65 and older, and its appeal dwindles the younger the audience - 39pc of readers 65 and over often get their news from a newspaper. That figure is 18pc for 50 to 64-year olds, 8pc for 30 to 49-year-olds, and just 2pc for 18-to-29-year-olds. This isn't surprising. Last year, US adults spent 5.9 hours a day on digital media. And 3.3 of those hours were spent on mobile devices, which are driving overall growth in digital media consumption. If you compare time spent by media type to advertising spend by media type, you find that readers have shifted away from newspapers, and advertising revenue is now catching up. According to Kleiner Perkins' Mary Meeker, 4pc of all media time is spent with newspapers.
But they account for 9pc of all advertising revenues. Twenty-nine per cent of all media time is spent on mobile, but mobile accounts for 26pc of all advertising spending. The simple interpretation: US audiences have moved from print to mobile, and advertisers are lagging behind.
Maybe the answer for many newspapers is to fully embrace the internet? It makes sense, and the research from Pew backs this up - 33pc of Americans get their news fix from news websites that are most popular with 30- to 49-year-olds. Forty-two per cent of them get news often from websites and news apps and 27pc of 18- to 29-year-olds get news from news websites, making it the second-most commonly used platform for news for that age group, behind social media.
So it's not inconceivable that some legacy publishers could pivot out of paper. The New York Times' CEO Mark Thompson admitted earlier this year that the print version of the paper could be gone in as little as 10 years.
And some news publishers have already taken the plunge. Finland's Financial daily Taloussanomat and Canada's La Presse have both decided to go online-only.
And then there's the UK's Independent, which went digital-only in March 2016. An academic study of the switch showed there were pros and cons. Domestic readership took a small hit. But traffic from outside the UK grew by about 50pc in the first year post-print, and by a further 20pc in the second.
However, international reach came at a cost. Total time spent with the UK Independent by British readers had fallen by more than 70pc since the switch.
"The reason for the decline in time spent seems to be to do with how differently content is consumed in print and online," said the report's author, Dr Neil Thurman.
"The Independent's print readers were much more frequent consumers than its online visitors are. More than 50pc read the title almost every day. Compare that with online visitors who, in 2017, visited an average of just over two times a month."
Of course, there's an upside. Ditching the paper meant enough savings in distribution costs for the Independent to become profitable. In the 2016-17 financial year the digital arm turned a profit of £2.52m. Yes, it's a commercial win. But a goldmine, it ain't.
And that's the problem here. Making any profit at all in online news is going to be tough. Even without the printing and distribution costs, reporting the news is an expensive business. So how should news organisations be evolving to court the modern reader? Well, according to Pew's research, younger Americans don't rely on one platform in same way their elders do - older audiences are in thrall to TV, of course.
And this younger audience is a sophisticated one: research has also found 18-to-49-year-olds are better than the over-50s at telling factual news statements from opinions.
So maybe the focus needs to be on serving this intelligent, media-literate audience with news in a format that engages them, regardless of whether that's on paper or with pixels.
The focus needs to be on the reader, not the medium. Everything else follows from that.
Sunday Indo Business