Why do people read newspapers?

It all comes down to marketing I guess. As I’ve been indirectly working on our news product lately I was thinking today about why people read newspapers. As we know, people don’t buy the sausage, they buy the sizzle. They don’t buy the carbonated vegetable drink they buy the amazing lifestyle they’ve been promised by TV commercials. So newspapers then?

Are you buying a lifestyle? Perhaps – do you read the Times or the Guardian? How about the Wall Street Journal vs. the New York Post? Are you conservative or liberal? It’s validating to read in print other opinions which support your own – but what is that worth – and what happens when it’s only you reading it?

reading-the-newspaperWhat if you want to know what’s going on in the world? A newspaper is now nearly the worst way of finding out.

  • Newspaper – what the editor thinks was important yesterday.
  • TV – what the director thinks is important today.
  • Blog – pretty much everything that happened today.
  • Twitter – what’s happening right now..

You could say you’re paying for the quality of the content. Hmmm, as we know, in a massively competitive market the price will drop to the incremental cost of adding one unit. In the case of the web that is as close to nothing as to actually be nothing. With the amount of bloggers on the web you have to say that point has been reached.

So what are you paying for? Well, convenience is a big plus. Rather than scouring blogs or tweets I can get a neat selection of writing – factual, tabloid or liberal – and I can read it comfortably at breakfast, on the train, in harsh sunlight or perhaps in the bath.

So what model will work. Yahoo currently sticks ads on the news. As do most newspapers. One interesting report though suggests that a key turnoff for users is where they can’t actually find the news. (Caveat – that report is hopelessly biased, but ignore it.) The ad agencies have got so good at capturing attention that you can’t see the news for the ads. It’s a fine line to walk – your advertisers (well, sales guys) always asking for bigger more garish ads, and your users asking you to take them away – or at a minimum make them more relevant.

On iTunes the 99¢ price is what I am willing to pay for the convenience of getting it to my iPhone with the least fuss. For other people it may be different – but look, it doesn’t take much to find MP3s on the web and we see more and more artists taking matters into their own hands. For me it was hearing that Madonna had ditched her record company in favour of an event management company that made me realize they had reached the point of no return.

Books may well be the next market to suffer. New e-book reading devices mean that books are available in electronic form to the masses. Yes, they’re encrypted – so were DVDs. I used to read mostly on the train and plane, now in bed, so paper suits me. But when I look at my (what seems enormous) collection of dead trees it makes me think of that day last year that I gave away all my CDs.

So then, people want intelligent witty (and perhaps tabloid) articles that are insightful, relevant and easy to read – just like they always have. But I’m not going to pay for them, and I can change provider in an instant. So good luck to the newspapers, if they can’t reinvent their businesses they’re toast.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Alex,
    Agree with 95% of that but here’s a thought to echo your question. Why are newspapers so fantastically popular? Even if you put aside newspapers sales growth globally and especially in places like India, they are still a big media product.
    It’s not even just about the Internet. The problem in the West is that newspaper sales have been declining from way before the Internet, the real crisis is simply one of advertising. The demand is decreasing but considering the competition from TV, magazine, radio and now the Internet, it is amazing that they still sell in their 100,000s or millions in the UK and that they completely dominate the news agenda.
    It is partly because of tradition and legacy and partly what you describe as convenience. They are a better package of information than ever before. And not everyone wants everything all the time right now. Most people don’t live their news consumption lives in every instant. Real people have other stuff to do, so don’t mind if their paper is a little out of date.
    But the real reason is entertainment. Just as I find Twitter fun and stimulating, so newspaper readers enjoy the diverse experience of reading a paper. And they enjoy the sense of community. If I am a middle Englander then I get a warm glow from the sense of identity I share with the Daily Mail. Online, newspapers find that harder to achieve, while a blogger usually offers a narrower experience.
    In the end, there is a lot of value left in newspapers in a journalistic and even business and social sense. They still earn far more than online news. It’s just they don’t make a profit (but neither does YouTube). I am amazed that no national UK newspaper has gone bust recently, even though nearly all are operating at a loss.
    So they are not toast yet, though the smell of burning is starting to drift out of the kitchen,
    Charlie Beckett


  2. […] are supposed to be toast but newspapers are actually remarkably resiliant. Alex Linde has asked Why Read Newspapers and answers: ‘marketing’. He suggests they have no […]


  3. […] Why do people read newspapers? « usuallyalex, more often than not.. Kevin: Alex Linde writes: "So then, people want intelligent witty (and perhaps tabloid) articles that are insightful, relevant and easy to read – just like they always have. But I’m not going to pay for them, and I can change provider in an instant. So good luck to the newspapers, if they can’t reinvent their businesses they’re toast." (tags: newspapers journalism businessmodels) […]


  4. […] Why do people read newspapers? >> Alex Linde […]


  5. Posted by Emily Grace on December 8, 2011 at 10:01 am

    why do people read newspapers? Please answer my Question


  6. It’s almost like Alex knows nothing about the news business. He implies bloggers are somehow adept at accurately reporting relavent news, yet the majority — if not all — blogs are merely opinion-laiden regurgitations of news stolen from legitimate news sources.
    Then, he states newspapers report what editors thought was important yesterday.
    I don’t know about your news organization, but much of what we produce is preview stories of upcoming municipal and school board meetings, community events.
    Why do people read newspapers? Because, regardless of all the digitized, over-hyped, McDonaldland propaganda about the death of print there are 10 times the number of print magazines as there were in 1980, and the community newspaper industry is more virile than ever because hometown newspapers are the only place you can get accurate, timely and relavent community news. If you want “citizen journalism” then, by all means, rely on the local untrained blogger’s school of ethics — but I’d sooner seek a citizen surgeon than leave my news gathering up to 7.5 billion Jim-Bobs who are just intelligent enough to push the power button on their Compaq.
    Alex claims “marketing” as the reason people read newspapers. I’ll let you in a little secret: People read newspapers because they trust them. Any dingus with an iPad can barf up opinion chunks on a wordpress site, but it takes hard work, dedication and know-how to operate a real newspaper, news site, radio station or TV network. That same sea of free blogging opportunities ensures an extremely high rate of low quality, innacurate reporting.
    Perhaps there will be a day when all news is digitized, but the need for trained professional news gatherers will never fade.
    Finally, the desire or expectation that anything web-based be free is ridiculous. News agencies, and every other company for that matter, must execute the pay wall system. If we all charge for our content then the internet deadbeats will be forced to pay their fair share. Our company charges for everything — both online and in print — and our business has doubled since the beginning of the recession. You wouldn’t walk into a Pizza Hut and demand free breadsticks, so do some people believe they are privy to free news?
    If we do not value our product, then how can we expect our readers to do the same?


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