It's common wisdom that the long, painful decline of newspaper business models began as the internet blossomed.
The internet is blamed for just about everything, from declining print subscription revenue to freefalling classified ad revenue. But is the common wisdom about the internet and newspapers wrong?
According to a study conducted by Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, British and American newspapers aren't struggling because of the internet. Instead, they're struggling because they've been too dependent on advertising revenue.
In looking at Scandinavia and Germany, for instance, the study's authors noted that online activity is high, but newspapers in these regions are still doing quite alright. So how do newspapers in Scandinavia and Germany compare to their British and American counterparts? There's one difference that stands out: the former generate on average 50% of their revenue from ads, whereas the latter generate closer to 80% of their revenue from ads.
That, the study authors believe, is a big part of the problem. "Countries like the US, Germany and Finland all have about the same proportion of internet users," they write. "However, the American newspaper industry, which has generated more than 80% of its income from advertisements, is today in a much more serious crisis than its counterparts in Germany and Finland, where advertising typically constitutes about 50% of total revenues."
While it's nice to see increasing recognition that there's a lot more to the woes of the British and American newspaper industries than the internet, to pin the blame solely on where revenue has traditionally come from might be a little bit too simple. The British and American newspaper markets have many differences with the Scandinavian and German markets. The numbers make that abundantly clear: of the top newspapers globally, as measured by circulation, only one is German and none are Scandinavian. On the other hand, six of the world's most widely circulated newspapers are in the U.K. and eight are in the U.S. Bottom line: comparing the newspaper markets in different countries to each other is often little more than an apples to oranges comparison.
In reality, British and American newspapers shouldn't 'blame' the internet. And they shouldn't 'blame' advertising either. Blame is pointless. Markets change. The companies that succeed aren't necessarily the ones that are best positioned for the precise changes that occur; they're the ones that respond most ably to it.
Photo credit: Eivind Z. Molvær via Flickr.