Newspaper Circulation Grows Despite Economic Downturn: WAN

Despite the global financial crisis, newspaper circulation grew 1.3 percent world-wide in 2008, the President of the World Association of Newspapers said Wednesday in a speech that contradicted “misleading” reports predicting the imminent death of newspapers.

“The simple fact is that, as a global industry, our printed audience continues to grow,” said Gavin O’Reilly, President of the World Association of Newspapers and CEO of Independent News and Media.

“But you might say that this growth is taking place in the developing markets of the world and masks a continued downward trend in the developed markets. And to a degree this is true, but not the whole story, as newspaper companies in these markets have embraced digital technologies to further improve their audience reach,” he said in a speech opening the World Association of Newspapers Power of Print Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Predicting the death of newspapers “seems to have reached the level of a new sport,” said Mr O’Reilly.

“That this doom and gloom about our industry has largely gone unanswered is, to me, the most bizarre case of willful self-mutilation ever in the annals of industry,” he said. “And it continues apace, with commentators failing to look beyond their simple rhetoric and merely joining the chorus that the future is online, online, online, almost to the exclusion of everything else. This is a mistake. This oversimplifies a rather complex issue.”

Mr O’Reilly said: 1.9 billion people read a paid daily newspaper every day. Newspapers reach 41 percent more adults than the world wide web. More adults read a newspaper every day than people eat a Big Mac every year.

“Whilst it may be true to say that in some regions, circulations are not a boom sector, newspapers continue to be a global mass media to be reckoned with, achieving a global average reach of over one third of the world’s population,” he said. “So if we are a declining industry, the definition of declining is a strange one. We are an industry with massive reach of the global population and one that achieves massive revenues.”

And while the financial crisis has clearly had a serious impact on newspaper revenues, the downturn is not worse for newspapers than for other industries. “This is not to deflect the seriousness of the situation, and it is very serious, but it remains a fact – all major media are suffering alongside our colleagues in other major business sectors,” he said.

Mr O’Reilly’s speech was based largely on preliminary data to be included in World Press Trends, the annual report from WAN to be published next month. The data shows: Global newspaper circulation increased +1.3 percent in 2008, to almost 540 million daily sales, and was up +8.8 percent over five years. When free dailies are added, circulation rose +1.62 percent in 2008 and +13 percent over five years. Europe is the hotbed for free newspaper development – 23 percent of daily newspapers in Europe were free in 2008.

Newspaper circulation increased +6.9 percent in Africa last year, +1.8 percent in South America, and +2.9 percent in Asia. It decreased -3.7 percent in North America, -2.5 percent in Australia and Oceania, and -1.8 percent in Europe. But in many mature markets where circulation is declining, newspaper reach remains high — many European countries continue to reach over 70 percent of the adult population with paid newspapers alone. In Japan, it’s 91 percent. In North America, it’s 62 percent.

Circulation gains are not only occurring in the emerging markets of China and India; 38 percent of countries reported gains in 2008, and 58 percent saw circulation increase over five years.

Though newspaper advertising revenues were down -5 percent in 2008, print media still takes 37 percent of world advertising revenues.

While the digital explosion has a global impact, it is not a uniform impact. The United States and the United Kingdom are most affected; the UK accounts for 38 percent of digital revenues in all of Europe. And compared to all of Europe, the United States has 62 percent of the total market.

In the United States, combined print and online newspaper audience grew 8 percent. Fifty-two percent of online newspaper readers spend the same amount of time as they did previously with newspaper content, 35 percent say they spend more time overall with newspaper content, and 81 percent of online newspaper readers say they’ve read a printed newspaper in the same week.

Although falling newspaper circulations are routinely blamed on the internet, the evidence paints a more complex picture, said Mr O’Reilly. “Why is it, that something as sophisticated as media consumption always get relegated to an oversimplified spat between print and online? Why must it always be a case of either or? Is it just possible that the consumer is capable of multi-tasking; is capable of consuming a multitude of media and that it need not necessarily be just online?”

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