Why talk of print media's impending doom is exaggerated: Editor-in-chief

Why talk of print media's impending doom is exaggerated: Editor-in-chief

For many years now, the death of the newspaper has been widely predicted. Editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspaper Division Patrick Daniel explains why some believe this conventional wisdom is wrong, as well as the challenges to be faced ahead.


By PATRICK DANIEL, Editor-in-Chief,

English and Malay Newspaper Division,

Singapore Press Holdings.


May I first wish those who celebrate a Happy Lunar New Year. Let's hope the Year of the Snake will be kind to us. For many years now - more than a decade, in fact - we've heard predictions of the death of newspapers. But in recent months, I've detected a significant shift, which I'd like to talk about today. I will cite three reports in particular.

BCG report on transformation

The first is the most recent one I've come across - a report by the Boston Consulting Group or BCG, titled "Transforming Print Media". BCG consultants must have learnt from the newspapers they've worked with, because their newspoint was in the very first para of their report. Here's their intro: "Conventional wisdom says newspaper and magazine publishing is a dying business. Based on our work with print media companies in North and South America, Europe and Asia, we believe that the conventional wisdom is wrong."

When I read this, I went - Alleluia!

Some of us in SPH have long believed this. I've been saying so at these annual awards every year. BCG goes on to explain why: "In most countries, print media companies continue to have commanding brands and strong consumer relationships." And print media continue to generate "enviable cash flows." However, the news is not uniformly good. Because, at the same time, "demographic evolution, technological revolution and changing preferences for how people consume media have made deep inroads into circulation and advertising". I quote BCG's three opening paragraphs because they summarise precisely the performance of SPH papers.

We continue to have commanding brands. And our customer relationships have remained strong. But after several years of growth, revenues of our newspapers and magazines slipped 1 per cent to $1.003 billion for the FY ended August 2012. Our profit fell by a larger extent because our costs went up. Still, it was a creditable performance. FY 2013 is looking to be another challenging year. I will come back to this.

Poynter: Print's extended shelf life

The second article I want to cite is from Poynter, dated Jan 24 - just last month. Poynter noted two reports which shared the same conclusion: "an extended economic shelf life for print, even as audiences swing digital and the search for viable digital news products continues". Note the key words - "an extended economic shelf life for print". Poynter also cited an article titled "Ten years that shook the media world" which noted that the direction we are moving is "clearly toward 'new' media, but 'old' media are still very much with us and do not appear to be about to disappear wholesale". The paper's conclusion? "The print to digital transition will play out over decades rather than just the next few years." So now we're talking decades, not years.

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