Is the problem that people don’t want to pay for news or don’t want to pay for newspapers?

Each round of newspaper circulation figures makes grim reading for anyone trying to balance the books at a newspaper. Month after month circulation is dropping away across the board. The usual explanation is that newspapers are suffering because so much free news is now available online, and there is certainly a large degree of truth in that.

However, there are two important caveats to that. First, the massive lack of trust in journalists, who are regularly rated one of the least trusted professions in the UK. As I wrote last year on this topic,

Isn’t a major reason that people increasingly turn elsewhere for news that they don’t trust the quality of what comes from traditional and paid-for sources enough above those other sources? “Pay for news from us because it’ll be accurate” could be a good sell. If people trust you.

(As an aside, it looks as if this his how The Times is trying to position itself compared to The Telegraph, with The Times‘s rather more balanced political coverage during the general election and since. The Times was in a very different league from The Telegraph with stories such as its misleadingly truncated data, page 1 splash despite admitting not knowing the truth or double-standards on tax.)

The second caveat is that though newspaper circulations are dropping, many magazines carrying news and current affairs are seeing circulations rise, as was the case with the latest ABC circulation figures – and this was no flash in the pan as it’s the continuation of an existing trend.

So is the problem people’s unwillingness to pay for news, or is it that newspapers are stuck in the wrong format and wrong styles?

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14 Comments

  • Calling magzines ‘current affairs’ and comparing them to newspapers as sources of news is, i think, slightly misleading: most of the top-selling magazines of the ‘current affairs’ variety provide in-depth analysis and comment of some kind, e.g. the Economist or Prospect. People may just find that reported news is easy to get for free on the internet, whereas good comment isn’t (no offence to LDV…).

  • Colin Green 16th Aug '10 - 8:15am

    For me it is a problem of two halves. Firstly, the BBC, ITV and Channel4 have good TV, radio and internet news which is free at the point of use. To get people to pay for news or opinion, you have to offer something far better than what is currently on offer, which brings me to the second half of the problem. News papers are full of biased opinions, twisted facts and often not far short of lies to fabricate shocking headlines whose purpose is not to inform but merely to generate sales of news print. Its no wonder journalists call their work “stories”.

  • I’d happily pay for decent news which was unbiased and factual, but these two things appear to have no place in today’s newspaper reportage.

    The tendency to push their own agendas and to try their best to create shocking sensationalist articles, their willingness to mislead and misinform, and the gall to claim that they do it for our benefit is what stops me buying any newspaper out there. Yes there may be one or two good ones, but I’m unwilling to try and find one, the majority have ruined it for the minority with me, I have other sources and I now don’t need or want newspapers. The only exception I make is to read the local newspaper if I happen to visit my parents.

  • Chris Keating 16th Aug '10 - 11:45am

    I agree with Niklas – if I want insight and intellectual challenge I read the Economist. Newspapers are packed with:

    – spin masquerading as news (often the paper’s own spin)
    – ranting “opinion” from people who I’d like to slap
    – vacuous “lifestyle” pieces which I can rarely read without a sense of disgust

  • Paul McKeown 16th Aug '10 - 1:34pm

    @Chris Keating

    “people who I’d like to slap”
    “vacuous lifestyle pieces”

    Had to laugh. Total agreement, here!

  • The problem with charging for on line copy is that you cannot put it back if it isn’t worth buying. Nor can you get your money back if you find that all the articles are rubbish. Most journalists only produce a decent article once in a while, much of the time it is predictable tat.

    On sites such as this instead of providing a link, commentators and bloggers will simply have to summarise the main points if they feel a need to react to an artilcle.

  • Memory tells me that an exit poll after the 2005 general election, grouping voters by their chosen newspaper, Times readers best reflected the election result. (The Guardian readers were the most polarised, no Tories at all.)

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