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The abandonment of traditional media in favour of the Internet has continued to gather momentum with the revelation that online is now the third highest news source in America, knocking newspapers down to fourth.
The latest industry figures show that 61 per cent of Americans now rely on the Internet as a primary source of their daily news fix. This places it third in the US market, behind local news television stations (78%) and national TV outlets (71%). This reflects the growing worldwide trend for having news on demand, in near real-time and completely free.
The Internet has become a major new battleground for many industries – new and old. News being one of the most significant of these. As access has widened, speeds have improved and costs have (proportionally) lowered, traditional offline businesses have struggled to cope with the shifting demands and monetising opportunities online. Within the media, this has led to a significant lowering in the consumption of printed content.
Rupert Murdoch has been one of the most vocal opponents of free online content [see: Is Rupert Murdoch Right to Charge for Online News?]. The newspapers within his News Corp infrastructure are still looking to introduce paywalls, which will mean that visitors have to pay a fee/subscription to read stories. Therefore The Sun and The Times could soon be charging you to read their content online. Some see this as an inevitable consequence of the online shift, pointing out some of the additional benefits of targeted advertising [see: Paywall Could “Revitalise” Online Advertising], whilst others see it is unqorkable in a world where good quality free online content exists.
He fanned the flames even further when he announced that his titles would also be disappearing from the pages of Google. This move was done as a reaction to Murdoch’s perception that the search engine was profiting from material it had nothing to do with through its advertising platform. True as that may be, it is a bi-product of working online. (Note: he also made an agreement with Microsoft’s search Engine, Bing, to grant them listings of his content – a site also funded by advertising.)
The mobility of the Internet could also be one of the deciding factors in how we consume media in the (not too distant) future. Mobile phones, Netbooks and tablets, like the upcoming Apple iPad, are becoming increasingly popular. With free or low price broadband attached, each provides the opportunity to browse the net and get news content on the move.
This ability to browse, quickly scan or read in depth, for free, wherever and whenever you want could be the death knell for printed news. Whilst some traditionalists will always prefer a physical newspaper, these will soon be in dwindling numbers. This makes monetising online content all the more important if the newspapers are to survive in any meaningful way.
The Internet as we know it isn’t the finished article, nowhere near in fact. Therefore it makes sense that businesses are struggling with the transition to online, whilst straddling both a physical and virtual presence. Journalism has been one of the areas hardest hit. With bloggers [see: How blogging is changing media reporting], real-time social media updates [see: Twitter Becomes a Frontline News Source] and online news agencies all adding their weight to what was once a very thin band of outlets.
Whilst these statistics relate to the American market, I don’t think it is too brave to assume that most technologically advanced societies will follow a similar pattern. Adopting a strong online policy, with a keen eye trained on mobile search is going to be the way forward for many businesses, not least those in the media. With everyone fighting for visibility, inevitably there will some casualties along the way as well as a fair few unheralded successes. Is this another nail in the newspapers’ coffin? Only time will tell.