Today’s Opinion: The future of newspapers

POSTED: 03/30/11 1:06 PM

Finally some good news about newspaper readership. While for years many have bought into the belief that newspapers are dead, or at least dying, a point of view that has been confirmed year after year by declining circulation across the globe, the national newspapers in the Netherlands suddenly experienced unexpected but most welcome growth.

Especially de Volkskrant saw its circulation increase by 5 percent to 243,000 compared to a year ago. De Volkskrant switched to the tabloid format from broadsheet a year ago. Editor in chief Philippe Remarque said that the newspaper is winning new subscribers and that street sales are also increasing.

Other national papers also saw an upswing. Trouw gained 4.5 percent and now sells 97,000 copies every day, NRC.Next went up 4.2 percent to 72,000, the AD won 1.5 percent and now stands at 398,000 and the Financieel Dagblad grew 1.7 percent to 59,000. The Telegraaf remains the largest daily in the Netherlands with 565,000 copies, 2.6 percent more than a year ago.

The only loser is NRC Handelsblad. The paper lost 3.4 percent and fell to 183,000. The small Christian dailies Nederlands Dagblad (-500) and Reformatorisch Dagblad (-2000) lost ground, but together they are still selling 80,000 newspapers per day.

The growth of the national newspapers is not due to a bigger appetite for news alone. Researchers point to new formats and especially to strong marketing efforts to explain the trend. For years it was not done, but these days’ new subscribers get rewarded with substantial gifts.

In spite of the positive trend among the national papers, the total circulation of all newspapers in the Netherlands still ended up 1.8 percent below the level of a year ago with a total of a bit more than 3.4 million copies. The newspaper publishers say that this is the lowest decrease in three years.

How long will it take for newspapers as we know them today disappear altogether? The Volkskrant is already offering its readers an iPad-option. For €149 per year (a bit below $210) readers will receive the paper electronically.

There is no way of knowing how fast this development will go, but it is almost certain to change the face of newspaper publishing forever.

When the CD-player appeared on the market in the eighties of last century, retailers thought that vinyl records and record players would still be around for a long time, but that prediction did not hold water. Sales of vinyl have dropped to close to nothing (in the United States its market share in the music industry is below 1 percent), and with it, record players went out the window as well.

The same fate is staring newspapers in the face; we are at the beginning of an exciting new development that could make the production of news significantly cheaper and bring it faster to market at the same time.

This technological revolution in newspaper production and distribution will obviously put quite some people out of a job. Printers, distributors and street vendors will become a thing of the past. In St. Maarten we are not quite there yet, but what the market will look like five years from now is anybody’s guess.


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