So what really happened to newspapers – in data?

The Age Printing press in Tullamarine

We know that newspapers are in decline. We know that we are shifting where we get our news, both in channel and in provider. Gone are the days when we have a few local TV stations, radio and newspapers to get our news from. News is more fragmented than any industry I can think of. But the truth is that we’ve never read more and watched more news per person than we do today. We just do it in different places and more of them. But how far have the printed version of newspapers really declined? Will they even exist in a few years or will they join the record stores and CD’s?

Let’s have a look at some numbers from the Australian market. (source IBIS World)

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It is fair to say that a major disruption has occurred. In 10 years the best part of half of their business has gone. And these numbers do not include the fact that both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have moved to a tabloid format which has one third less space. And while some of the readers have gone to the same provider but online, the revenue streams have not. The online version of a newspaper can no longer pretend X number of readers saw the advertisement, no less than they can pretend that Y number of people clicked on it. The problem with such dramatic declines is that it is rare that being half the size can provide half the profit. When critical mass is lost, the business model itself starts to crumble. It would for example be hard to believe that The Age can deliver hard edged investigative journalism with half the reporting staff. It does seem that our BuzzFeed encroached world now rewards speed, rather than depth.

The biggest reminder for me as to how fast things can change is every time I drive to Melbourne airport. I go past the image at the top of this blog entry. It is a new printing facility built by Fairfax to print The Age newspapers. It was built in 2004 at a cost of $220 million. A few short years before the smart phone arrived, which fundamentally changed how we get our news. Today they are now trying to sell it for a little over $30 million – a $190 million loss.

We want doesn’t really change that much, but how we get it sometimes does. And while it’s clear this is a revolution, that thing that is changing is not so much human desires, and more so the infrastructure which delivers them.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!