Why We Won’t Need Print Newspapers At All Anymore
So the Independent – which 30 years ago had set out its stall as the UK’s only independent newspaper – shuts down on March 20th. On Friday I filed my four final columns for the paper with an air of great sadness.
We have (I think) eleven national newspapers, the majority of which are right-wing. But print-newspapers are dying, bought mainly by older people and those who don’t travel with e-devices. We know that each has its market, that the Sun and similar papers are bought by a blue-collar demographic, the Telegraph by non-city dwellers, and so on, but the majority now get their information online.
But where do we get it?
Of the newsmakers who also have a print-edition I read the NYT, the Independent, the Guardian, the New Yorker, the Spectator and several others – but that’s not my majority reading anymore. Al-Jazeera, the BBC, Londonist, Daily Beast, Mashable, Metacritic, Arts Desk, Cinemascope, Slate, Goodreads, Crimetime and a million others spring to mind.
In other words, if I want a specific – a book review, a historical article, a piece on London politics – I’ll go to a site that specialises in just one subject, not to a time-pressed newspaper that may or may not have managed to include it in their pages. If I want to know about a film, I’ll go to a specialised site, not to the Sunday Times, where neither of their main reviewers are actually real critics with credentials in cinema. Roger Ebert had written films – that was what made him a good reviewer.
The graph above is deceiving. 3 of the 5 top-selling titles are ‘back pocket papers’ – ie. they sell to van drivers, plumbers, cash-in-hand workers, people who are not regarded by companies as relevant to their marketing plans, and a friend of mine at the Mail says the paper appeals to technophobic older females who are not ‘decision-makers’. Harsh, but that’s how she sees it.
So we read online. But availability of online material is US-skewed – too much so, because we share a common language. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve searched for a particular subject and been led to a Hollywood movie covering it instead of an academic article, because the popularity is click-driven.
But the days of one-size-fits-all journalism no longer suits our lives. It doesn’t mean we’ll lose fine writing, either because there’s a lot of superb writing online. The big problem remains – how do you get people to pay for the information someone has worked hard to provide? I have just two online subscriptions. If I subscribed to everything I liked I’d not only be broke, I’d be inundated with information and communications.
Newspapers are less proactive – you pick them up, put them down and nobody has data-trawled anything. Your newspaper won’t be calling you in an hour to ask how you enjoyed the experience. But their day is – for better or worse – coming quickly to an end.