These are clearly perilous times for newspapers nationwide. According to recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the average weekday circulation of nearly 400 daily newspapers that reported sales slid 10.6 percent to 30.4 million from April to September, compared with the same six-month period in 2008.
Newspapers have continued to experience declining circulation as readers increasingly have turned to online sources for news. Many metropolitan dailies, including the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press continue to reduce staff; and at the same time, the price of the daily Detroit News and Detroit Free Press doubled from 50 cents to $1. The website Paper Cuts, which tracks layoffs and buyouts at U.S. Newspapers, says that the number of reporters across the nation has been reduced by nearly 30,000 since early 2008.
The only daily newspaper in the top 25 to grow (by .06 percent) is the Wall Street Journal, edging out USA Today as the top-selling newspaper in the nation. USA Today had its worst period ever, falling more than 17 percent. Much of this decline was due to the publication’s reliance on sales in hotels and airports and a corresponding decrease in travel.
In light of declining circulation, many believe that our newspapers’ ability to act as watchdogs of government, corporations and the communities in which we live is being threatened. On the contrary, I believe that we are approaching a golden age of journalism. This is not the first time there has been a change in the way we receive the printed word. The history of moveable type dates back to around 1040 in China. Metal moveable type was first invented in Korea around 1230. Johannes Gutenberg developed the first moveable type printing technique in Germany around 1439, launching the European age of printing.
The Gutenberg Bible, first printed in 1455, established the superiority of moveable type and printing presses rapidly spread across Europe. The invention of lithography in 1796 brought in the age of newspapers as we have come know them. In 1993 the digital press enabled reproduction of digital images, which rapidly changed the newspaper and magazine industry.
As we enter 2010, we are on the verge of the most exciting revolution in newspaper and magazine journalism. During the upcoming holiday sales season, consumers will be bombarded by a plethora of eReading devices. A recent Forrester Research report predicts that 900,000 units of eReaders will fly off the shelves between Black Friday and Christmas.
Amazon first introduced the Kindle reading device two years and recently updated it with a larger screen, soon to be in color. After nearly a decade and of millions of dollars of research and development, Plastic Logic will launch its electronic reader made entirely of plastic electronics. Plastic Logic will release an 8.5 by 11-inch notepad that’s less than a third-inch in thickness, based on plastic rather than silicon and glass. The company promises flexibility and durability – a shatterproof eReader with a battery that can last for days and a device that can download books and newspapers through either a 3G network or a Wi-Fi connection.
Competition in this new world of eReaders will be fierce. Kindle, for example, dropped the price of its device to $259 and just introduced a larger Kindle DX. Sony will soon have three variations of its device: pocket, large touch screen and wireless versions. A company called Spring Design will soon market a device that runs on Google’s Android operating system. Industry trendsetter Apple Computer will soon launch its highly anticipated tablet. There have been rumors that the New York Times is working with Apple Computer on its tablet to enhance the device’s eReading capabilities.
IREX Technologies has introduced a sleek, 8.1-inch, touchscreen eReader that offers multi-mode 3G wireless capabilities. The IREX device is supported by key partners Barnes & Noble, Inc., Best Buy, Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless, which together provide content, a powerful retail presence and the most reliable wireless network in the country.
It is interesting to note that while U.S. newspapers continue to lose subscribers, they are beginning to understand, enhance and reach out to their online readership instead of fighting the transition. Look for online newspapers and magazines to become more user-friendly, to feature better integration of multimedia and to be more adaptable to the imminent world of eReaders Adobe is busy creating a publishing tool for the new format which will be offered to publishers.
While print circulation may be declining, Nielsen research shows that year-over-year traffic to the top online newspaper websites has grown 16 percent. Nielsen notes that in December 2007, just over 3.5 million unique visitors daily came to newspaper hubs; that number increased in December 2008 to just over 40 million unique visitors. Nielsen Online goes on to report that nine of the 10 top newspaper websites experienced positive year-over-year growth.
With nearly a million eReaders getting ready to hit the shelves this holiday season, newspapers and magazines are gearing up to adapt to new eReaders, new smart phones and other formats. And, as with all electronics, prices will continue to drop after companies begin mass marketing. It is conceivable that the cost of receiving a new eReading device may be included in the cost of subscribing to your favorite newspaper or magazine.
While newspapers and magazines adapt to the world of lightweight, unbreakable, flexible eReaders, look for readers to expect brilliant multimedia presentations. In today’s high-tech, razzle-dazzle computer-animated graphics world, people are going to want to experience unlimited content, lights, color and action on their eReaders. The point, however, is this. People will still want to read. In fact, it’s much faster to consume information by reading than being distracted by a multimedia presentation. We are in the early stages of another tectonic shift in information technology. Instead of mere printed words captured on a static piece of paper, words now will be floating in the ether, simply waiting for someone to download them onto a an e-device – and still packing a punch, ready to stimulate, inform and entertain!