@ WAN: ‘Newspapers A Growth Business’? Reports Of Demise Exaggerated? Probably Not

But that’s the spin World Association of Newspapers (WAN) CEO Timothy Balding tried to put on the state of the business in a keynote here at Gothenburg. “They say that newspaper in print is almost dead – well, I can’t see it myself,” he told a packed auditorium of inky execs. “And no matter how many times I hear it, the figures just don’t match it. There’s been a slight decline, but still nothing incredibly dramatic.” In truth, the picture is far more nuanced…

Paid circulations may have grown 2.57 percent worldwide in 2007 (and nearly 10 percent in as many years), up to 532 million daily copies sold. And the number of titles out there may have grown three percent to 11,684. But that’s largely thanks to growth in Asia (circulations up 1.87 percent) and south America (up 6.72 percent) – the market is shrinking in north America (down 2.14 percent) and Europe (down 1.9 percent). In the US, evening paper circs (10 percent down over the year) are falling faster than mornings (1.97 percent down).

Free dailies, on the other hand, are surging ahead, growing circulation 20 percent last year, mostly in Asia and their native Europe. Free dailies now make up seven percent of worldwide print circulation (EU 23 percent, US eight percent).

So WAN is betting on combined stats to paint a positive overall picture (sneaky). When you look at it that way, global newspaper circulation was actually up 3.65 percent last year – “something you wouldn’t believe if you believed half of what you read about newspapers and their imminent demise today”. In truth, it it weren’t for free’s growth and paid circulation increases in India (11 percent) and China (3.8 percent), the business would be in even greater trouble. Yet Balding said: “Despite everything we hear about the situation in the US, still 62 percent of adults in America read a paper every day” (that’s more than anywhere else).

Are newspapers in denial? No, said Balding: “There is not this mass migration of readership to other platforms, but still this profound attachment to the printed newspapers.” And online advertising share is still “a very long way from the share taken by newspapers”, “still the largest advertising medium in the world is print”. Newspapers, he said, are “a growth business”.

And that is the optimism editors here have been asked to muster…