Does Mobile Social Mean Print Will Swap Dollars For Nickels?

If all were well, it would be good news. Newspapers have had a bonanza year, as far as stories go, what with Brexit and a change in leadership in one party, a challenge in the other. Then there was the Olympics and Paralympics, not to mention Euro 2016. Instead of ringing in the good times, however, print's slow-motion, painful fall off a cliff gathered momentum this morning as another pair of results show ad revenues and circulations plummeting.

OK -- so the Telegraph Media Group GBP150m writeoff applies to accounts filed at the start of the year, so do not fly in the face of what should have been a good year. However, Trinity Mirror's report that print revenue is down 21% and circulation is down 6% in the third quarter of the year, takes us across what should have been a very good time for the papers.

It's a similar story at the Daily Mail owner, DMGT, which announced at the end of last week that it was cutting 400 jobs after print advertising fell an astonishing 19% in September, having fallen 12% in the 11 months to the end of August. Clearly the start of the new Premier League season, doubt over Brexit and a leadership battle in the Labour party did nothing to slow down print's demise.



So the good news is that digital revenue is up. At Trinity Mirror, digital display is up nearly a quarter, but here is the rub. Print's very sad demise is a little like a guy sitting at an old-fashioned money-counting table. On his left, there are banknotes, on his right, coins. To the right, things look good as fresh deposits bring a larger, shiny heap that everyone's been talking about. On the left, however, just a single note accounts for many coins. No matter how many coins get deposited on the right-hand side, they do not make up for the breeze blowing notes out of the window.

The world of online news has seen newspapers swap dollars for dimes. The trouble is, of course, that news is now entering another stage -- mobile. Here publishers could end up swapping those dimes for nickels as they come face to face with the huge influence of social media, particularly Facebook, as well as start-ups that seem better enabled to quickly package up the news and get it shared widely than brands with a print background.

The truly troubling aspect for print publishers is that routine visits to home pages to search for news under a single brand have plummeted. That means that so has the opportunity to serve curious browsers multiple pages of stories accompanied by ads. The power of social sees people dip in and out of multiple news sources, taking a page from here, another from somewhere else.

If you throw in ad blocking, and consider that one in four male Millennials are estimated to be shunning ads, then you start to see the harsh reality facing print. Don't get me wrong -- as a journalist with print roots, none of this is reported on with anything other than a sense of sadness. But there you have it. No matter how you want the world to be, you'll always find it as it is.

This column was previously published in the London Blog on October 3, 2016.
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