The front page account of New York Times’ decision to go bi-weekly announced on the 2nd day of November, 2013 by David Carr is evidence in itself, considering that the New York Times is one of the most powerful newspaper companies in the world. This is glaring evidence that all does not bode well for the print industry.
Coming back home, the Nigerian print industry is not in anyway better off.
A research conducted by Advertising Association of Nigeria (ADVAN) in 2010 reached the saddening conclusion that daily sales of newspapers across the country has plummeted to less than 300,000 copies a day, in a country that boasts of a population of over 166 million people. This shows that one(1) in 470 people buy newspapers daily. The study showed that Punch Newspaper, the number one selling national daily was vending about 34,264 copies daily. The Sun paper, ThisDay, Vanguard, Guardian, all best selling newspaper print outlets were each vending below 26,000 copies daily at the time the survey was conducted. Surely, we don’t expect that these numbers have sky rocketed in favour of these print outlets, do we? Considering another 2012 report of the Internet World Statistics for Africa which listed Nigeria as the topmost Internet user in West Africa with a whooping 48,366,179 users. It goes without saying that this figure cited here has risen, considering the great demand for internet access recorded yearly by internet service providers in Nigeria. Another thing that is obvious is that the increase of internet access in Nigeria and the decline of the newspaper print industry are inversely proportional.
The newspaper and indeed, the entire print industry have so obviously fallen from grace especially among the youths and a further fall from the perking order is expected as the years roll by. The older generation, arguably are still interested in prints due to computer illiteracy and nostalgia. Many favour prints, calling them tangible;, but for how long? How long will people flip the pages of newspapers contented instead of scrolling through smart phones and tablets?
Can the print media companies deny that they are no longer as influential as they used to be? Or that the revenue generation has taken a dip? Stories of retrenchment within the newspaper industry abound.
Away from distant examples, it hit home last month when I invited my younger sister to my apartment. I had arranged my shelf full of books to impress her, an avid novel reader, just for me to get a look which made me feel at least 30 years older before she asked me why I wasn’t using e-books. Every excuse I made for prints was met with stronger argument against. Finally, while I was resigning to my fate, she stated in no uncertain terms that if it’s not online, it’s not for me. This certainly echoes the views of many uber-modern youths today. Who will buy prints tomorrow? Certainly not the youths of today!
WHY THE PRINT MEDIA IS DYING...THE ISSUE OF
The cost of publication which will, in turn be passed on to the newspaper buyers are enormous compared to the considerably meager cost of online publication. Sophisticated web designing and web hosting can be done for a yearly token or even free unlike the labyrinth involved in standard newspapers publication. It can be inferred that little or no cost is passed to the readers on the internet therefore it is more accessible and the crowd surely goes where it’s cheaper.
The evolution of the “E” world is taking the real world by storm and saving cost for the populace. People now find banking online cheaper, more effective. Even online tests for prospective employees and students are becoming a trend. What more news, articles, novels? It surely spells doom for the print market.
The advent of television shed some importance off newspaper reporting, due to the live platform the television gives to viewers to witness things as they happen. The print survived this because of people’s love for variety and that print reading culture in that era was sacrosanct. In these days of the internet, information flows faster than the days of yore where people had to wait for at least 12 hours after an event took place to read reports and insightful discourse on it.
Now, pundits and reporters alike have web pages where they report happenings, give detailed analysis almost as soon as they happen. The culture of rushing to the vendors early in the morning is on a decline for the youth who have Internet access. The fact is that all reputable newspaper companies have Internet pages and forums, the indisputable fact is that the Internet is the present and future of reporting. Even match-making sites and social media have solidly taken the place of their “ancestors” pen-pal columns for this same reason of time constraint of the print media.
The obvious limitation of the print media in dissemination of information cannot be overlooked when comparing it to the internet which is a global village in actuality. The world wide web is the greatest method of spreading information in split seconds across several continents and in diverse languages. The growth of social media platforms like Facebook and twitter in the 21st Century has brought news to the doorsteps of people readily. This same growth has exacerbated the descent of the print media from the order of things.
Not only news, but dignitaries from around the globe and their daily contribution have become more accessible, little wonder social media forums have spearheaded political campaigns and are hugely popular among the aspirants themselves for these same reason of speed and accessibility. Online polls to determine political issues are becoming more and more an accurate reflection of reality with each new one conducted.
This ever-growing influence wielded by online publishers/social media experts is in itself evidence to rebutt the position of print media analysts that the surge of social media is a mere ephemera, a fad the youths will soon tire of. These social media personalities all over the world and indeed Nigeria have been lauded and listed among the most influential people. In lists usually reserved only for the creme de la creme of politics, fashion and pop-culture. I dare say that social media has replaced the traditional press as the fourth estate of the realm, a title naturally exclusively accorded to the printing press.
FALL IN ADVERTISING
The dreary economics of print media seems to be on a downward spiral with the New York Times, the most influential newspaper in the world in the said 2013 publication stating that digital revenue was growing at 15 percent per year and overshadowing the revenue derived from print. The situation of print is surely tenebrous.
It is a known fact that the major revenue of newspapers are derived from advertisement and it is also true that pragmatism is a major policy in the advertising industry, so suffice it to say that the adverts move where the people go. The combination of the factors earlier stated (time constraint, shortcoming in terms of dissemination) have formed part of vicious cycle which is certainly not in favour of growth of advertising in print media. This in turn has plummeted the fortunes of the print industry.
The culture of copy-and-paste is a problem within the Internet world which relevant legislation are trying to curb. Ironically it has come to haunt the print media itself in the areas of exclusive interviews and features which used to be the hallmark of true journalism. These online blogs and forums make the works of journalists easy pick on the internet. They publish without permission, exclusive interviews conducted by the journalists working for the print companies and make the most of it. These works which would have at least maintained the uniqueness of newspapers and magazines are being mercilessly plagiarised and the fact that there is little or no presence of copyright laws in the Nigerian Internet scene has compounded the problem of print media.
PROFERRING PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS
I cannot foresee any thing that will stop the upward trajectory of the internet which has adverse effect on newspaper publication however, it will not be out of place to suggest measures to ameliorate their presently difficult position. These are:
Admittedly, this decision will reduce some of the powers wielded by the papers in the aspect of breaking news especially as it concerns readers who are not computer literate. However, this measure is obviously good in the long run after it is well thought out, with the pros and cons examined. The print media has been predicted to suffer even heavier blows in the future anyway, so future planning to contain this recession isn’t amiss.
- The print media companies in Nigeria (who, as I stated earlier have online portals) should follow in the footsteps of the New York Times’ austerity measures by cutting short their publication from being daily to bi-weekly newspapers. This measure will ensure better researched work, more detailed analysis, punditry and more unique output to please their faithful patrons. This should be done simultaneously with using its powerful influence to lobby the legislators to pass laws that will curtail, to some extent plagiarism on the Internet (a major antagonistic force affecting newspaper fortunes).
- Instead of a massive retrenchment when this policy is put in place, the newspaper companies can employ some of their staff within the purview of their online platforms so that they can concentrate more on digital publishing.
Some of the revenue realised from their digital media platforms can be reinvested into the print media to avoid a total fall in quality and for further research to be made to combat the fall from grace of prints, carving a niche for themselves when the time of turmoil comes.
The print media is one of the dying cultures of our age which we must fight to preserve, if we can.
NWAMAKA NNEOMA is a legal practitioner and freelance writer