Many city newspapers in North America are struggling. A few months back in a post I suggested it was because they were not covering local topics, instead picking up on non-analytical wire copy and propaganda media releases rather than reporting actual events.
The Global Urbanist has another theory, suggesting in a recent e-mail that newspaper declines are actually linked to a decline in advertising dollars from car companies and the fact that automotive-based commuters simply don’t have time to read the paper.
So s/he asks:
Why do newspapers have an automotive section?
On reviewing the world’s largest newspapers, I realized they circulated in regions with high transit use. Japanese newspapers hold the top five spots in circulation numbers. Japanese are also the largest users of passenger rail services. Almost half of Tokyo’s 30 million residents commute by rail everyday. In the United States the top newspapers also correlate with the top mass transit centres with the exception of USA Today. That exception could be explained as being the airline’s newspaper. Daily airline passenger traffic in the U.S. is equivalent to almost half of New York City transit user traffic.
This makes sense since a train ride or a flight is the ideal environment to read a newspaper as opposed to the attention demands of driving an automobile. So why do North American newspapers spend so many resources promoting automobile culture, and hardly any promoting transit? Does the decline of transit culture in North America equate to the decline in daily newspaper readership?
Of course the answer is newspapers are funded by advertising, not readership. There are a lot of advertising dollars coming from the automobile culture. Whether it is a classified ad to buy or sell a used vehicle, an auto dealership promoting new deals, or a manufacturer promoting the upcoming model; there’s a lot of revenue coming in from drivers. When was the last time Bombardier or Siemens promoted their latest rail innovation in the newspaper? So newspapers are initially drawn by the advertising revenue from the automotive industry that leads to the long term detriment of their readership.
Today North American newspapers find themselves on a road to extinction. On-line options get much of the blame, but these options are also available to Japanese, Germans, and British, all of whom maintain substantial readership numbers among their major newspapers. The lengthening of the North American driving commute is as responsible if not the key factor to the decline of the continent’s newspaper industry. When cars drive themselves or there’s significant increase in mass transit traffic the industry might start to recover. Metro International is the fastest growing newspaper in the world and there key success factor is that they distribute at transit hubs.
p.s. I’ve been busy with family and vacation, but have several big posts percolating that I hope to post in the next few days