Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Why Digital Natives don’t like newspapers

Several years ago, the Washington Post convened a series of focus groups to learn why most individuals under the age of 45 did not subscribe to the newspaper – a problem persisting to this day throughout the overwhelmingly print-centric industry. 

Its not that people didn’t like the Post, reported the American Journalism Review in an article describing the research project in 2005. The problem was that the respondents – many of whom happily consumed news on digital devices – drew the line at piles of old newspapers cluttering up their lives.  According to a Post executive quoted by the AJR, more than one respondent declared: “I don’t want that hulking thing in my house.” 

Although the 50%-plus drop in advertising sales since 2005 involuntarily has slimmed down the Post and most other newspapers, the print product remains broadly unappealing to individuals under 45.

If publishers intend to make good on their long-stated pledge to pivot from print to digital products, it is important for them to understand the profound difference between the consumers they have vs. the consumers they wish they had. That’s what we’ll do in a moment. First, a few facts: 

∷ Print newspaper readership ranged from 16% of forty-somethings to only 6% of those in their twenties, according to a survey released last year by the Pew Research Center.  By contrast, Pew found that 30% of Americans aged 50-64 and 48% of those over the age of 65 had read a newspaper on the prior day.

∷ The repudiation of the print delivery system by young people is probably the single greatest factor in the sharp decline Pew detected in newspaper readership in the last decade.  Pew found that only 29% of the American population read a newspaper in 2012, as compared with 56% in 1991 – the first time researchers asked the question. 

∷ If you compare newspaper readership against the age distribution of the U.S. population, as I have done, then you will find that approximately three-quarters of the audience at the typical newspaper is 45 years of age or older, even though individuals in this cohort represent only 40% of the entire population.  Attesting to the rapid shift in news consumption patterns, only half of newspaper readers were older than 45 when I ran the same numbers in 2010.   

∷ The mature skew of the newspaper audience is a clear and present danger to publishers, because the sale of print advertising and subscriptions generates some 80% of the revenues at the typical newspaper. The industry’s dependence on print is a particular problem because geezers are not only undesirable to many advertisers but also can't be expected to live forever.  

In light of the above, any serious effort on the part of publishers to migrate to digital publishing requires an understanding of the Digital Natives — the Generation Xers and Millenials  — who grew up in front of all kinds of screens: televisions, computers, Xboxes, iPods, Razrs and, today, Androids and tablets. 

Unfortunately, the digital strategy undertaken to date by most publishers is to port their newspaper-style content to the web and then repurpose the material to mobile devices.  The warmed-over digital fare offered by the typical newspaper falls well short of the expectations of two whole generations of individuals who are not only empowered by technology to consume media but also know how to use it to make their own. This explains the explosive growth of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a host of other do-it-yourself media. 

As the Washington Post discovered years ago in its research, one of the biggest reasons Digital Natives don’t read newspapers is that they travel light: favoring renting over owning, flexibility over commitment and convenience over cost. 

The distinct mindset of the Digital Native was captured in a recent presentation (pages 59-79 here) by Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the top venture-capital firms in Silicon Valley. 

Dubbing the Digital Natives the “asset-light” generations, Meeker notes that young people don’t want to own CDs, haul around books, buy cars, carry cash, or do their own chores. Instead, they use their smartphones to buy, borrow or steal media; rent shared cars at home or book shared rooms when they travel; hire people to buy groceries or cut the grass, and use apps from Starbuck’s and Target to pay for lattes or redeem coupons.  Many of the Digital Natives even prefer short-term gigs that allow them to arrange their work around their lives, rather than arrange their lives around their work. 

Meeker believes the digital generations will change everything from the travel and credit card industries to the way health care and education are consumed.   

The newspaper industry already has been profoundly disrupted. The only remaining question is what publishers will do about it.   

© 2013 Editor & Publisher


Blogger Unknown said...

Eh, how about newspaper are slow, bulky and mostly full of shallow stories that once upon a time used to pass for "news".

Today an internet connected phone/tablet/computer can in an instant deliver far, far more in-depth information from experts who are far more versed in whatever topic the user chooses than a few pages of recycled paper.

The basic truth is this: newsprint is an awful medium for the conveying of information. That is the business they're supposed to be in, right?

3:58 PM  
Blogger Anne Holland Ventures Inc said...

Digital natives don't like direct postal mail either - we sent out a brochure recently and received photos back from recipients brandishing the print in astonishment because it was so crazy to get paper mail! One recipient of our company Christmas cards this year emailed 60 days later that he'd just gotten it because until that day he hadn't realized he had a postal mailbox at his company.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Paul Knox said...

I especially liked this part of Meeker's predictions about the future: "Easier for Crafty & Flexible People to Make Money." Plus the anti-entitlement rant at the end of the slideshow.

Who do you think you're kidding?

6:10 PM  
Blogger Hinton said...

This is a great blog. Love it.

Too bad he doesn't cover the book and magazine industries. I wish that there were similar blogs.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'd be happier if it were clearer this post if talking about US newspapers.

And as more and more international publications switch their focus to online media, let us not forget how elitist it is. Online content requires first, electricity; second, a device capapble of accessing the internet; and third, an internet connection. While much of the world is connected, not all of it is -- and not everyone has the financial wherewithal to connect. Print media, and yes that includes newspapers, don't require such a commitment from the consumer. And they can be left on bus benches and in train stations for the next person who comes along. That's all being lost in the digital age and it's a shame.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nice blog post, so long as you bear in mind it's refering to US media, not the world. What's being lost in the love affair with digital news is how very elitist it is. One needs access to electricity, possess a rather costly device capapble of accessing the internet, and have access to the internet. That doesn't apply to many places in the world.

8:45 AM  
Blogger frank h shepherd said...

The ONLY way print newspaper legacy companies are going to survive(and they are circling the drain) is to HIRE YOUTH... bright, young, educated males and females, 35 and younger, who will take and create a NEW digital model that will have a chance at appealing to those 35 and under...and make sure you sprinkle in some Stanford and MIT grads.... to give the groups horsepower a boost.... hiring this team and giving them free rein to create and package news on all digital platforms is their only chance at surviving... period! Those over 50 ain't gonna get it done... period! You do not and should not be an "old" print newspaper person to make this happen...5 years from now I will say I told you so.....

11:54 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think it's as easy as hiring youth. I think it'll take a total and complete rethinking of the way a "newspaper" works.

How could a general assignment reporter -- even a hip and fashionable young one -- compete with a well versed specialist, someone who really understands and can expound on the intricate details of the particular topic that you happen to be interested in? Pick any topic and the specialist will always win.

Back in the day the newspaper was the only place for in-depth information, so even though their content was probably still relatively shallow, for the majority of people it was the main information source of record. Today that's just not the case. Better information about most of the things newspapers still cover is available damn near anywhere.

The current model of the newspaper as a provider of broad-based information is at best crippled and the idea of using newsprint to provide that information is long dead. To survive (and I could add "stay relevant", but that race is long lost too) so-called newspapers need to reexamine how they cover the "news" and really really focus on the very small bits they do best and not "link to the rest" like people like to say, but it cut off like the gangrene arm it is.

2:04 PM  
Blogger vladimir said...

I stopped reading local newspaper (and New York Times) when realized their liberal bias affecting their news coverage. It is funny that nobody in a blog or in a comments mentioned a bias as a factor. What is the point of reading newspaper if you know that their editorial staff doctors the print to satisfy their biased point of view?
I better do my homework and find info on the WEB. BTW, I am way over 65.


8:46 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

A few months ago I got a Kindle.


It seems to me that newspapers should give to subscribers a larger version of the Kindle. Bought in bulk, I bet it would be less than the $79 I paid retail....

Okay, now your subscribers get the newspaper to their large-size Kindles every midnight. And updates and blogs. Local blogs. Local blogs. Local blogs.

I said local blogs....put a guy in city hall and have him go nuts...he should know everything that happens there before it happens....

I can read about Wall Street a zillion times before this day is over. But I cannot read about my hometown that much.

And Patch is crap, although some websites are better like LA Curbed...

12:46 AM  

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