The Power of Print in the Age of the Internet

By: Steven R. Strahler and Leo J. Shapiro

Development of the Internet and its capacity to disseminate news and other information almost instantaneously on a global basis has been viewed as a threat to traditional media. It is true that some media, particularly television news, are vulnerable to inroads from the Internet. But newspapers, magazines and other forms of “old” media will find demand for their services stimulated, rather than depressed, as use of the Internet as a news provider grows.

Almost three out of every four people surveyed (72% of 450 polled in February 2005) say they have Internet access. A greater proportion of the total (42%) say they use it for news than those who say they don’t (29%).

Those who use the Internet for news show a higher propensity to want to learn more about events of the day elsewhere. This is particularly true for readers of national newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. While only 5% of those with no access to the Internet say they read at least one of these papers in a seven-day period, the percentage jumps to 29% for the segment that uses the Internet for news.

This 24-point gap is higher than the 16-point spread for radio news, the 13-point spread for newsmagazines, the 12-point spread for local newspapers, and the 8-point spread for local business journals. The net effect of using the Internet for news is to increase the total number of print and broadcast news sources used in a seven-day period.

The clear loser is television news. Fewer people who use the Internet for news (by nine percentage points) view television news at least once during seven days than those who do not have access to the Internet.

We believe that this ever-deepening penetration of the Internet into everyday life will fundamentally change what consumers seek in forms of old media.

Newspapers must continue to evolve, and as they become more like daily newsmagazines — interpreting events that are first disclosed on the Internet — the newsmagazines themselves will lose their niche.

To retain their relevancy, national newspapers must publish every day. The Wall Street Journal, in a nod to this necessity, will start a Saturday edition in September.

Television still ranks No. 1 among consumers as a source of news. More than half (57%) name it as their favorite medium. Local newspapers (21%) and radio news and national newspapers (10% each) are next in line.

But television’s limitations — hardly able to provide more than pictures and sound bites — are a fact that even TV programmers recognize. Viewers are often advised to go to the network’s or station’s Web site for more information.

The Internet definitely depresses television as the sole source of news. In effect, with the Internet, television loses some of its value for spotting new developments, just as local newspapers lost some of their value with the advent of radio. When was the last “extra” edition of a newspaper?

In failing to satisfy the desire for information that it stimulates by reporting breaking news about events in progress, the Internet expands the audience for newspapers. But the current contribution of the Internet to newspaper audiences is unlikely to continue indefinitely, as use of search engines and blogs to secure information and perspective grows.

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