Young Adults Abandon Newspapers

…the future of
the U.S. news
industry is
seriously
threatened
by the seemingly
irrevocable
move by young
people away
from traditional
sources of news
–Merrill Brown

I am struck by the stark contrast between two readership surveys I’ve seen recently. Editor and Publisher reports on a study commissioned by The Carnegie Corporation of readership patterns of young adults 18 to 34 years-of-age. It found that young readers are abandoning newspapers at a rate that threatens the future of the publications and, in fact, the rush to the web puts all traditional media in question.

A second study is not yet published but it was completed internally for one of our denominational publications. It reveals a readership pattern that nearly reverses the data. The typical reader of the main program journal of the church is older than 50, female and resides in a small town. This reader does not use the web.

…young people
don’t want
to rely on
the morning
paper on
their doorstep
or the
dinnertime
newscast
for up-to-date
information;
in fact,
they?as
well as
others?want
their news
on demand,
when it
works for
them.
–Merrill Brown

None of this comes as a surprise, but it does point out a challenge that’s widespread in the publishing industry. Publishers face a balancing act to preserve their existing audiences while attempting to attract new audiences attuned to new media. They have their own preferences and needs for information, so it isn’t merely a transition in technology. It’s also a change in culture–in packaging, content and format.

Denominational publishers also face stagnating revenue from book sales and many have reduced staff and taken other steps to reduce costs. Digital content does not, at this stage, produce revenue to replace losses from traditional publications. However, overhead in the form of staff and equipment must be paid. It’s a double bind.

Current profitable operations must be maintained while new media are developed. Some major newspapers have begun to charge for online content, but analysts say this may not be viable in the long term. It is more likely that free content results in a relationship with readers that leads to paid subscriptions in print.

If the economic bottom line is unclear, the bottom line for readership is very clear. Young people are already using digital media and these media are the channels through which they get their information. As the Carnegie study notes, the way we are accessing news today raises fundamental questions about the news as we have known it. The bottom line for traditional media, both religious and for-profit, is clear. It’s change or die.

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