Friday, 18 September 2009

Newspapers dying a slow death?

Cape Times newspaperI absolutely love reading the news. I've always been very inquisitive and grew up reading newspapers all the time, to stay on top of current affairs. However, since the arrival of the internet (and therefore online news sites), I've gradually read less and less print media. In fact, I can't remember the last time I actually bought a newspaper, yet I avidly read the news online on a daily basis.

Are newspapers still important? If you don't have internet access, yes. But for most part I don't see the point in buying newspapers anymore. Sure, the idea of reading a newspaper while sitting outside on Sunday morning, nibbling on a croissant and enjoying a glass of orange juice may seem attractive but that's also where the attraction stops.

There are several reasons why I read news online instead of printed newspapers

It's convenient - Easy access to several different news sites from around the world. Get different perspectives on the same story which leaves you better informed.
The news is fresh - News sites update their content several times a day.
It's interactive
- You can leave comments on a news article and therefore interact with the journalist or people with similar interests.
It's free
Customisation - You can customise some news sites to only show the type of news you're actually interested in.
Archives - You can always refer back to an online news story through the site's archives. But you can't keep hundreds of newspapers piled up every year.
You can also sit outside, nibble on a croissant while enjoying a glass of orange juice; the only difference is there's a laptop in front of you. ;)

Duncan Mcleod from TechCentral wrote a great article, SA editors mull the future of newspapers in a digital world, which is definitely worth a read and the reason I decided to write this blog post in the first place. It's interesting to read the views of editors on the future of South African newspapers and see how some get it completely wrong, in my opinion.

Business Day editor Peter Bruce: "You can be indifferent to the future of newspapers, but not about journalism".
Fully agree!

But when it was suggested that people under 30 will never regularly buy a newspaper, he disagreed: "Young people always say they'll never read a newspaper, until they start."
Wrong. Once they've realised they can read that exact same story online, from the same source, they'll always opt to read it online instead.

To pay or not to pay

Will I pay for online news content? I'm not sure. The content will have to be quite unique. I've landed on news sites before where it was required of me to be a subscriber to the printed version already, in order to read the online version. The New York Times is a prime example. Within seconds I'd simply search for another respected news site out there, where I'd find the same story, for free. The NY Times have subsequently dropped that model and their online news site is now open to all.

On home soil, Naspers used to do the same thing a few years ago, where you couldn't access the M-Web news & sport websites unless you were an M-Web ISP client as well. Of course, since I wasn't an M-Web subscriber I simply found alternative news sites which ran similar stories. Naspers have since allowed public access to their sites anyway. Therefore moving away from a subscriber model to an advertising model, earning money through the ads displayed on their news sites.


However, from a publisher's point of view, this does create the inevitable problem: How do you succeed in generating advertising revenue online when a lot of people simply use software to block the ads anyway? I use Firefox as my default browser and the first add-on I install, is AdBlock Plus which blocks just about every ad on every site. It makes the site load faster (since the ad images don't have to load) and the site is also less cluttered which enhances the reading experience. But since I don't get to see the ads, I'm definitely not the online sites' favourite visitor.

The bottom line is that all these sites rely heavily on the fact that the majority of their visitors don't use ad blocking software in their browsers since (I assume) they're not aware that it exists? But what if these uninformed users become informed? Perhaps some visitors prefer to see the ads anyway; I'm simply not one of them.

There are several news sites in South Africa, but these two are the most popular:



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