Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Hamish McRae: Newspapers aren't dead yet – it's there in black and white

Something nearer home: The Future of News and the Internet. That is the title of a new report by the OECD. Its main message is that "large country-by-country and title-by-title differences and the data currently do not lend themselves to make the case for 'the death of the newspaper', in particular if non-OECD countries and potential positive effects of the economic recovery are taken into account".

So maybe our death has been, like that of Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. If you look at the global pattern of declining circulations, the most extreme falls have been in the US, where papers were down 30 per cent over 2007-2009. there was a 21 per cent decline in the UK but contrast this with Austria, Australia and France, with declines less than 5 per cent.

In the emerging economies, however, the pattern is totally reversed. Over the rather longer period of 2000-2008, sales in South Africa rose by 34 per cent and in China by an estimated 29 per cent. The circulation of paid dailies in the five biggest emerging markets, Brazil, India, China, Indonesia and South Africa, is now greater than in all the OECD countries put together.

The report also says that the reading of news online complements other forms of news rather than replaces them. Most surveys show active off-line newspaper readers tend to read more news online, and in some countries more than half of the population read newspapers.

The OECD paper does not quite show this, but it may be that the overall readership of newspapers in the developed world is still growing and is higher than at any time in history. Certainly, my own worm's-eye view is that we can now reach people in every corner of the world with some of the most thought-provoking comments coming from readers who would never previously have had access to us.

And that crucial question: will people pay for online newspapers or is free good enough? The willingness is low but increasing, the OECD says. And how you consider that, I suppose, depends on whether you see the bottle as half full or half empty.

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