Are Newspapers Still Relevant In a Digital World?

by James Shaw, Creative Director/Principal, Twin Creek Media

In a word, yes.

Newspapers have a unique place in the marketing world.  For many, reading the local newspaper is nothing short of a sacred ritual along with their morning coffee and fuzzy slippers.  I would say though that the relevancy of newspapers for the generations below Boomers is increasingly questionable.  My gut feelings tend to go against the data released by NADbank (Newspaper Audience Databank) recently.  Their data is frankly startling, but I'll be the first to admit that hard facts trump my "feelings". NADbank's website states that the NADbank 2009 Study provides newspaper readership data for 83 daily newspapers in 53 markets and 60 community newspapers in 33 markets across Canada. The study's authors go on to speak confidently about the relevancy of newspapers, leading with the headline:

"NEWSPAPERS REMAIN AN IMPORTANT RESOURCE FOR CANADIANS Once again, daily newspapers have demonstrated their value to Canadians. Despite constant rumours of their imminent demise, newspapers continue to be a relevant source for news and information across Canada. Over three-quarters (77% - 14.7 million) of adults living in markets where a daily newspaper is available read either a printed or online edition each week."

Okay, okay.  But a healthy dose of skepticism should be allowed, right?

After all, I can't help but notice that the entire study appears to be a bit self-serving.  NADbank's committees are stacked with newspaper employees and media agency people.  Anyway, I digress... Mitch Joel, a guy I admire in the digital marketing arena, wrote an interesting article about the topic.  He muses that the future of news may be online.  Joel writes on his TwistImage blog,

"When looking at how these free, digital-only publishing houses work compared to the traditional news media, the differences are staggering. From how the journalists are found, managed and paid to the marketing and advertising models, to the actual management infrastructure, one would not be hard-pressed to say that they look nothing like the industry that they inherited and digitized. Maybe the newspaper industry has to look well beyond the current model of simply copying-and-pasting their print content and publishing it online to re-imagining what publishing means in a world where 20 people and a WordPress publishing platform can do the job using text, images, audio and video that it used to take 200 people to do in a fraction of the time and cost."

I found Mitch Joel's blog post to be very interesting, not to mention the responses it garnered.  I'll end this article with my highly subjective take on the subject, which I orginally wrote as a comment on his site.

I'm 33 and I rarely read a newspaper.
I can't really think of any Gen Xers that do. I've never bought a newspaper in my life, but my wife and I sometimes enjoy the novelty of looking at a big city paper left outside our hotel room door. Relevant news bubbles to the top through digital channels... it finds me. Important world events blast through to me on Twitter. Eg. Not only can I learn about the chaos in Haiti, but DO something instantly - donate money by text messaging! Newspapers are all PUSH, no share. No interaction. No do this now. I don't see how newspapers can survive. They just aren't relevant. (I'm speaking personally here, remember!  Many of Twin Creek Media's clients advertise in the local newspapers, and rightly so. 
As always, it's about the right message, to the right audience, at the right time & place.  A subject for another article.) I don't watch news on TV either. I'm sick of the censorship and focus on negativity. Free news online is awesome. Does it hurt newspapers? Probably. Maybe newspaper execs should read that famous little book about change: "Who Moved My Cheese?" Before you write me off as a total geek, understand that I love the printed word when it comes to real books. A great novel, work of fiction or non-fiction is not the same in digital/gadget format.  I like to kick back in my favourite chair with a real paperback just as much as my daddy and granddaddy did. ;-)
Newspapers are here to stay (for a while).  From a marketing perspective, newspapers reach a large population of habitual readers.  Information heavy ads tend to do well in the relaxed and unhurried ecosystem of print.  Certain big-ticket consumer items such as houses, cars, electronics, and furniture tend to hit the mark in print (although, I think many brands are re-evaluating their marketing mix).  Food and household staple ads also seem to be everpresent in newspapers, perhaps surviving on Cupon Queens & Kings. 
Newspapers can play a bigger role in your marketing mix depending on your target demographic.  Boomers and seniors, for example, are not rushing to check Twitter on their iPhones (actually, you'd be surprised!) so newspapers are a good choice to reach them.  As a marketer, I just can't wait for the juicy eye-tracking, heat map, CPA-super-stats to be applied to the newspaper world.  The digital world has spoiled us with the ability to measure everything.  We want evidence!  Nanochip-woven papyrus anyone?