WAN-IFRA’s World Printers Forum just published its latest report “Print-Online Performance Gap”. Just when one thought the old print vs. digital debate was no longer useful, along comes a study to stir the flames. Despite having been written off countless times in the past, the printed newspaper stubbornly refuses to die. It is astounding to witness the tenacity with which the more than 400-years-old news medium asserts itself in the digital era. The study doesn’t outright suggest that publishers abandon their digital efforts, rather, to play to the strengths of where newspapers’ audience and revenues mostly reside.

This past summer after journalism professor H. Iris Chyi and doctoral student Ori Tenenboim of the University of Texas published their study, “Reality Check – Multiplatform newspaper readership in the United States, 2007–2015” – the debate was on in the US. Using a longitudinal analysis of readership data of 51 US newspapers, the findings of the study, essentially, said that newspapers’ assumptions, and subsequent strategies, that “print will one day die” were woefully off the mark.
Chyi revisits the study in this World Printers Forum Report, addressing and challenging some of the heated debate that ensued when the study was published, particularly from what she calls the “pro-digital, anti-print” voices within the industry.
“Drop The Death Narrative Of Print”
The reach of the print versions of the investigated newspapers dropped from 42.7 to 28.8 percent between 2007 and 2015. The online reach of the newspaper websites stagnated, but in the same period rose from 9.8 to just ten per cent. “Therefore we do not believe that the readers abandoned the print product for the websites of the newspapers”, said Chyi. Indeed, the online versions of the newspapers seem to be once again on the losing side in the last years: In 2011 their reach had actually achieved 10.7 per cent.
Chyi concludes her part of this report, which also includes feedback from a broad range of industry experts, by saying: “The key is to acknowledge the reality, drop the death narrative [of print], value audience research, and deliver quality content through preferred platforms. Albeit no longer ‘wildly profitable,’ there is still a future of newspapers.”
Views of Newspaper Experts
For this report, jointly prepared by WAN-IFRA and the trade publication 4C, H. Iris Chyi wrote a summary of her last year's study. In her summary, she also reflects upon the reactions to date and the discussion about the study in the USA.
The report shares the views of newspaper experts outside of North America. A number of acknowledged experts from newsrooms, publishing houses as well as equipment manufacturers and material suppliers have been consulted. We include their replies to our six questions in this report, after the summary of the Texas study.
WAN-IFRA supports and promotes the ongoing transformation within the publishing industry, much of it indeed driven by technology but ultimately by the audience and its ever-shifting consumption habits. We believe that an agile, multi-platform strategy is the only way forward to satisfy those evolving habits. And it goes without saying that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for any publisher, market or region.
For most publishers around the world, print indeed remains a core part of any platform strategy, and WAN-IFRA's World Printers Forum focuses its energy on exploring the innovations and strategies for newspaper printers.
This study, and our report, begs the question to us: What if we are on the wrong path? What if we should still be focusing most of our investment and energy primarily on print? Chyi is pretty clear in her arguments and conclusions. It was interesting to read the feedback from the global panel of newspaper experts – publishers, printers, (production) suppliers – interviewed about the study. Most agreed: it’s not a question of print or digital, it’s more a question of what readers want and delivering them quality content however they want to receive it. Sanat Hazra from Times of India said: “Focus on print and digital, not on print or digital. Complement each other and don’t fight each other.”
It is not our objective with this publication to present unchallenged truths, but to encourage a discussion on the importance of the printed newspaper today and in the future, as well as the consequences from the findings of latest research.

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