Why newspapers and magazines should survive the digital age

In our latest MediaCT Light Bites blog, John Carroll asks, in an industry where we are led to believe that print is dying and tablets are the saviour, why has print stood the test of time?

I observed a focus group the other day where half a dozen regular purchasers of newspapers and magazines were recruited by Ipsos MediaCT to discuss why they prefer printed copies over digital publications. In an industry where we are led to believe that print is dying and tablets are the saviour, it was somewhat refreshing to be reminded why print has stood the test of time, surviving the arrival of radio and TV and, as one respondent forecasted, will also survive the Internet.

The appeal of print amongst this group was obvious. With a large number of us spending our whole working lives in front of computers, it is easy to see why people go into screen-avoidance mode when they step out of the office and start to wind down with, say, a local evening paper or a magazine. Some consider it a treat as they lie on the sofa in the evenings with a glass of wine and catch up with a newspaper. They like the physical, tangibility of print and think that going online is, frankly, a hassle.

Then there is the conflicting reader behaviour and presentation of content across platforms. The lean-back, habitual nature of reading print jars with the lean-forwardness immediacy of online. Tablets appear to go some way in addressing this, but the jury is still out as to whether they are the game-changer that publishers are waiting for. Our print advocates prefer the eclectic mix of news already carefully prepared for them in one consistent format, rather than having to self-select through an un-navigable clutter of digital content and advertising. A print reading session is more rewarding and engaging than the equivalent online reading session. They were certainly not holding back on their views, although they acknowledged they had either never accessed publisher content online or at least not for a long time (and were recruited on that premise).

The group agreed that not everyone in the country needs regular access to constantly refreshing news content; TV & radio would be the first port of call for a major breaking news story – and this is a group with nearly everyone having a smartphone.

There was an amusing social observation that with the proliferation of Kindles and tablets one can no longer categorise the character or personality of another person through being able to see what books, newspapers or magazines they are reading. Electronic media are an anti-social menace it seems.

Whilst this exercise did not set out to predict the make-up of tomorrow’s reader landscape and whether print will play a part, it certainly highlighted some of the pillars and values on which print newspapers and magazines have been built and, indeed, why print should really survive the digital age.

Ipsos MediaCT will be presenting more findings from this research, including what happened when we “forced” this group to visit publishers’ websites, as part of our forthcoming ‘Tomorrow’s Readers: Keeping the audience engaged’ breakfast seminar on 13th September.

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