Most newspapers in the UK, Canada and the US and have not yet come up with effective responses to the profound structural changes that are leading to declining circulations for paid for daily newspapers, according to a discussion paper by Canadian communications consultant Ken Goldstein.
Goldstein claims in Sixty Years of Daily Newspaper Circulation Trends: "Initially, there was too little recognition of the internet’s ability to 'unbundle' the newspaper package in addition to its potential to compete for time and attention."
He adds: "More recently, a number of newspapers have focused on paywalls and platforms. But paywalls and platforms are not business models. They are, at best, transitional steps on the way to a new and very different business model. And, for general interest newspapers, there is a very real problem – as long as reasonable substitutes are free, charging for content will be difficult."
Goldstein also says: "The idealized notion of competing voices is a good thing. But it is precisely because of the number of alternative competing voices, and consumer acceptance of those voices, that daily newspaper circulations are declining.
"Indeed, if the trends of the past 10 years continue for the next 10 years, and if there is no plateau, then daily newspaper circulations could fall to a level equivalent to 20-25 per cent of households by 2020."
The paper concludes: "We hope the profitable life of that product continues for as long as possible; indeed, that extension may prove vital to maintaining brand value in an online environment. But, ultimately, someday, the print product will be gone. And its replacement will not necessarily be the same number of local newspapers simply re-purposed into electronic formats.
"Because of the unbundling effect, it is at least possible that only a few major national or international newspaper 'brands' will survive in electronic form, and that local news will come to be delivered by, and attached to, a variety of other online services.
"For most daily newspapers in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., that is a prospect that should focus their strategies. In the short term, it will be important to assess if it is reasonable to expect a plateau in circulation, and at what point that might occur – 30 per cent of households, 25 per cent, lower? And it will be important to assess what business plans make sense at those levels. There will have to be a recognition that the daily newspaper industry, in its printed form, is likely to be smaller than it was even in the very recent past, and that there may be a further contraction in the number of daily newspapers."
- The paper notes: "In 1950, the average daily total paid circulation for British national daily newspapers was about 21 million (equivalent to almost 150 per cent of households); the total paid circulation for British Sunday newspapers was about 31 million (equivalent to more than 200 per cent of households). By 2010, the average daily total paid circulation for British national daily newspapers was about 10.1 million (equivalent to 39.9 per cent of households); the total paid circulation for British national Sunday newspapers was about 9.9 million (equivalent to 39.0 per cent of households)."
- Via The Canadian Journalism Project