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Summary:

The woe, as usual, is more or less unconfined. September’s daily newspaper circulation figures, as audited by ABC (NYSE: DIS), are down 5.31…

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photo: EJ Press

The woe, as usual, is more or less unconfined. September’s daily newspaper circulation figures, as audited by ABC (NYSE: DIS), are down 5.31% in a year: Sunday totals are 6.7% off the pace. And, of course, we all know what’s to blame. It’s the infernal internet, the digital revolution, the iPad, laptop and smartphone taking over from print. Online is the coming death of Gutenberg’s world, inexorable, inevitable, the enemy of all we used to hold dear. Except that it isn’t.

A fascinating new piece of research this week looks in detail at the success of newspaper websites and attempts to find statistical correlations with sliding print copy sales. As one goes up, the other must go down, surely? These are the underpinnings of transition.

But “in the UK at least, there is no such correlation”, reports the number-crunching analyst Jim Chisholm. “This is true at both a micro-level in terms of UK newspaper titles and groups and at a macro-level comparing national internet adoption with circulation performance. Indeed, the opposite case could be argued: that newspapers that do well on the web also do better in print

This article originally appeared in TheObserver (Guardian).

  1. Hilarious stuff. I am 33 and never buy paper newspapers, nor does anyone I know. Maybe old people still buy them, but that just means a slightly deferred demographic time bomb for the print side of the business. It still extends the life of print-reliant publications by just a couple of years before they switch to all-digital or fold.

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  2. Could it be that readers aren’t substituting the print version of a newspaper with its Web version but substituting in other Web sites instead? People may go to BBC.com or CNN.com for their news instead of Guardian.co.uk, etc. That might explain the lack of an inverse correlation between Web and print performance for newspapers.

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  3. “Indeed, the opposite case could be argued: that newspapers that do well on the web also do better in print… Understandably worried traditional journalists should know that the internet is not a threat.”

    What a bizarre conclusion, from a lot of disparate and potentially unrelated data!

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  4. Finally, someone with a cool head and some reliable data (instead of fear fueled by impartial or bogus “research” like the one by Harris/paidContent UK, for example)

    But the fact that the publication that do well in print succeed also online has been known for years now. Compare the presentations by representatives of Hearst or Alex Springer during the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin in 2009.

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  5. Newspaper Web Sites work hard to be timely and relevant to people’s lives; not all of their companion print publications do the same. Rapid evolution of the product occurs on the web; print changes are glacial at most companies (especially those without vision). The bad news: The demographics for most “news” sites are much the same as their print companions. Digital publishing platforms that evolve into open, customer-centric sites become relevant to all segments of their communities and thrive. “News” is a niche, both in print and on the Web, and is becoming commoditized. It’s about quality, original content.

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  6. T. Hardy Jackson Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Another counterintuitive model … The Week (magazine) aggregates content snippets from magazines, newspapers, etc and has seen great circulation growth. I thought the web was supposed to be the content aggregator? :)

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  7. @thardyjackson – interesting. The reason The Week puts on sales is because it is constantly promoted to new subscribers. It’s growth is all from subscriptions. And all on direct debit. The Week does well because it’s published by a marketing-led organisation. None of the other examples are, and their marketers are not central to the main operation. That is the lesson here.

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