- Revolution. As a result of the digital revolution, we have moved from a world of scarcity of information gathered by a few reporters in a few newspaper companies, edited, printed and distributed to the public, to a world drowning in online content via the Internet, and nearly all of it free and in real time.
Almost every country in the world, except perhaps India, is noting a major fall in the print circulation of its newspapers.
The crisis started in 2007 in the United States, spread to Western Europe around 2010 and is now being felt in Africa.
Most newspapers report a 30 to 50 per cent drop in circulation and that is having a serious effect on advertising, their lifeline.
Not knowing what to make of this, the initial reaction by newspaper and magazine editors and managers was to dismissively say the world was becoming shallower and losing interest in reading.
All that younger people want to do, it was said, is to play video games, watch TV soaps and sports matches, and that’s it.
In its self-importance, the print media establishment felt that the problem must be with the readers, not with them.
And so, newspapers continued tinkering with the peripheral issues – commissioning redesigns of their print editions, changing the newsroom’s sitting arrangement, opening social media pages on Twitter and Facebook as a vague, half-hearted nod to the rising influence of social media.
However, circulation continued to drop and the magazines and newspapers continued to blame the readers for this.
Where, exactly, is the problem?
From all the reading and researching I’ve done over the last 10 years on this topic, I would put it down to a few things.
The first is that we are in the midst of a historic shift from the world of analogue to the world of digital.
Anything of the analogue, brick-and-mortar era was bound to be affected, no matter what it was. That should be obvious to anyone.
From typewriters to computers, from LP records and cassette tapes to CDs and DVDs and on to MP3 players, from film cameras to digital cameras, from fixed line desk phones to mobile phones, from analogue TV broadcasting to digital broadcasting, in-store shopping to online shopping, from queuing in banks to withdrawing and depositing money to online payments and mobile money withdraws.
Almost everything digital is vastly more convenient, of higher quality and very much higher capacity than almost everything analogue.
About 30 years ago, it was considered almost extravagant for one to use up two rolls of 36-exposure films at a wedding or news event.
Today, using a memory card, 72 photo shots are what one takes in only the first 45 minutes of an event.
Therefore, there should be no surprise that we have also seen a shift from print news publishing to electronic news publishing.
The second factor is that as a result of the digital revolution, we have moved from a world of scarcity of information gathered by a few reporters in a few newspaper companies, edited, printed and distributed to the public, to a world drowning in online content via the Internet, and nearly all of it free and in real time.
Just think: Why should the average person pay Shs2,000 to buy a print newspaper of 48 pages dealing with a handful of news items when the same Shs2,000 can now get one 500MB of data from a Kampala telecom company to read the contents of that same newspaper and hundreds more for free online, then check their email, download five favourite songs and get on social media?
The answer shows the crisis facing print newspapers.
But…the world is now consuming much, much more information than ever before. People are reading much more news and information today, not less.
Here then is hope for newspapers – if they will think deeply and make the necessary re-invention of their entire publishing and business model.
Some of us know exactly what that re-invention involves and are just waiting to be approached as consultants for the same.