Falling newspaper circulation is a failure of engagement, so take a tip bloggers..!

The circulation of printed newspapers is falling dramatically. Worldwide newspaper sales are down. With only a handful of exceptions – often related to low prices – newspaper sales are falling off a cliff and the industry is in turmoil about what to do about it.

Much of the discussion has centred on the web and how this has “stolen” readers. Newspapers themselves have responded with websites offering up-to-the minute news and apps for the iPad, for instance. Yet, in spite of having this massive shop window in which they can sell their printed version, their sales are plummeting.

So, the newspaper executives are putting all their efforts into trying to improve their online product while they go to conferences where they hear discussions about the “death of print” and how in five years time no-one will be buying newspapers any more. It is all doom and gloom.

However, amidst all this discussion few people appear to have attempted to answer the question “why do people prefer online news to printed news?” Until now. New research has shown us the reasons why people have given up printed newspapers and it tells a completely different story to the assumptions which have surrounded the newspaper industry for a decade.

It seems that people are not interested in newspapers much because they are not stimulating enough. Online news has plenty of additional stimulation – video, audio, interactivity and so on. But in the printed version it is just words and pictures on a page. Of course, words on a page can be made stimulating; if that were not true the Harry Potter novels would not have sold 450m copies. Print does not have to be boring. Unless you are a newspaper editor who has given up the fight because you assume you cannot win against the Internet.

The research shows that people want to engage with what they read, they no longer just want to be told something matter of fact. They want to be made to think, to laugh, to cry, to have their emotions tickled and they want to take part. Newspapers in printed form do not offer the extent of stimulation that leads to such engagement. If they did that, their circulation would rise no doubt.

However, the research also has a hint or two for anyone writing blogs. It shows that to get loyal readers, to ensure that your blog is recommended and to be certain that it will succeed you need to stimulate your audience. You need to do all those things which truly engage them such as make them think, make them cry, laugh, shout and take part.

The only problem with that is, if you make your blog so amazing those newspaper editors will have another reason to moan about their falling sales figures.

2 thoughts on “Falling newspaper circulation is a failure of engagement, so take a tip bloggers..!”

  1. Graham, with all due respect, there’s a fair chunk of nonsense here. You’ve oversimplified why newspapers are falling.

    1) Newspapers can still engage emotions – look at the reaction to anything Samantha Brick says when she appears in the Daily Mail.

    2) Newspapers have been cutting back on staff and making their product more generic at a time when they should have been doing the opposite but too many mainstream news orgs had a very blinkered idea of what news was – even the more open areas of features and supplements still had a very late 80s view of what was of interest to readers. This allowed the web to come in and steal people.

    3) It’s also worth bearing in mind that the rise in the web (in part) has conincided with the rise of people driving to work – so people don’t stop off at a newsagents or street vendor to buy a paper – and at train stations you have the free Metro in the major urban areas.

    4) At the same time the (not free) BBC has spend fortunes online, giving people a chance to get news when they want it. To be fair, the likes of Sky have done the same so unless a story is genuinely exclusive, it can be broken at any time of the day.

    5) Papers made the huge mistake of thinking what the editor was interested in was what the public wanted. Massive no and a failure to understand audiences.

    6) Papers stopped pulling out genuine nationwide or human-interest scoops. Stuff that no one else had and would make everyone go “I must read this.”

    7) Staff become more middle-class. Journalism used to be a job that paid well and that (in part) compensated (in many homes) for the journalist (traditionally male) working seven days a week, 18 hours a day. Now, for better or worse, journalists have families, want family time and so on. Which often means they leave journalism. But those who stay still want these things and there’s fewer and fewer working class hungry cub reporters filling in the gaps.

    8) Stimulating people isn’t enough BTW – you need to build an audience and brand/blog familiarity – something newspapers managed day in day out by publishing consistently.

    9) Worldwide, newspaper circulations are doing OK actually. Falling in the Western World but doing well elsewhere.

    What I’ve put is only the tip of the iceberg but your post above has made some incredible sweeping generalisations that, quite frankly, are stuff and nonsense and wouldn’t have lasted five minutes at a newspaper where it would have been peer-reviewed before publication.

    • Craig thank you for your very useful and informative comment. However, I disagree that what I wrote is nonsense…!

      I admit I have simplified things and your comments provide useful additional material, for which I am grateful.

      Naturally I would dispute that I have written “stuff and nonsense”. As my headline tried to explain I was writing mostly to provide a tip to bloggers, not to provide an analysis of why newspaper circulation has fallen. Nor was I writing something which I would have submitted to a newspaper as I know it was not sufficiently detailed nor up to scrutiny. (I am an award-winning newspaper writer, by the way…!).

      All I was doing was trying to make a simple point that bloggers need to stimulate their readers – and your comment proves my point because I appear to have stimulated you into some expressive language about my writing…!

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