The government of Morocco has passed a law specifically forbidding citizens of the north African kingdom from sharing their newspapers in public spaces. That’s right: under the new rules, you can only read a newspaper you paid for yourself, and you may not pick up someone else’s old newspaper left lying around a café or at the bus stop. The Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers claims the practice of leaving newspapers in public spaces costs them $150 million per year.
All this makes for especially strange reading in light of media history. As publishers have known for hundreds of years, print newspapers and magazines accumulate much of their total readership through “pass along” consumption – and publishers astutely campaigned to have this often substantial audience included in their reach figures for advertising sales.
Now, however, Moroccan publishers are not only spurning pass-along readership but, with the passage of this law, actually seeking to punish readers who share their product. The thinking seems to be that consumers will be so desperate for news that they will pay for their own papers, preserving advertising reach while also boosting circulation revenues.
In addition to sounding broadly unenforceable – something tells me Moroccan police have many better things to do – the law appears to be completely out of touch with contemporary media trends. As in other parts of the world, media consumption in Morocco has shifted decisively online, with 17.3 million Internet users in 2014, or 57% of the population; meanwhile 94% of the population owns a mobile phone and over a third of these own a smartphone. Newspaper print circulation has been declining steadily for over a decade.
In short, the new law (if it were actually enforced) is more likely to be the final nail in the coffin of the industry than a magic bullet. For their sake, let’s hope everyone in Morocco does the right thing and breaks the law.