Virus hastens newspapers’ slide into shaky digital future

PARIS (AFP) – The coronavirus crisis has weighed heavily on print newspapers already battling for survival around the world, with the number of copies sold tumbling while less profitable digital readerships surge.

Simply delivering printed papers to the shops – or having customers come in to buy them – has become a challenge, worsening a years-long decline in sales and advertising revenue.

“Consumption of printed newspapers has fallen as lockdowns undermine physical distribution, almost certainly accelerating the shift to an all-digital future,” the Reuters Institute’s 2020 annual report said.

Major dailies in Brazil and Mexico have already switched to online-only or dropped some days’ editions, while in the Philippines 10 of the 70 newspapers in the PPI association have shuttered.

“Times are hard. There are no advertisers and no-one is reading us,” PPI Executive Director Ariel Sebellino told AFP.

The archipelago nation’s small local newspapers were hardest hit during lockdown as street sales tumbled.

Employees of the printing house of Riccobono group in Tremblay-en-France, near Paris, talk to each other while the French daily newspaper Le Monde is printed. PHOTO: AFP

“The industry is under siege and we’ve all taken bruises,” Sebellino said.

Far from affecting only journalists, the disappearance of print papers deals out pain all up the production chain, taking in printers, paper makers and delivery people.

Major British media brands could boast of 6.6 million new online readers in the first quarter in what their industry association said was a new record.

But most have not seen the same bounce in print sales.

The coronavirus has become “the greatest threat to the global news industry since the 2008 economic crash” wrote industry publication Press Gazette – which itself moved online-only in 2013.

Between 2005 and 2018, some 250 local papers closed across Britain, while today one in three journalists’ jobs are believed to be under threat.

The picture is similar in the United States (US), where dozens of papers have closed or merged with local competitors since the crisis.

Between 2008 and 2019, half of all workers in American newspapers lost their jobs, according to a Pew institute count.