Why Digital Natives don’t like newspapers
It’s not that people didn’t like the Post, reported the American Journalism Review in an article describing the research project in 2005. The problem was that the respondents – many of whom happily consumed news on digital devices – drew the line at piles of old newspapers cluttering up their lives. According to a Post executive quoted by the AJR, more than one respondent declared: “I don’t want that hulking thing in my house.”
Although the 50%-plus drop in advertising sales since 2005 involuntarily has slimmed down the Post and most other newspapers, the print product remains broadly unappealing to individuals under 45.
If publishers intend to make good on their long-stated pledge to pivot from print to digital products, it is important for them to understand the profound difference between the consumers they have vs. the consumers they wish they had. That’s what we’ll do in a moment. First, a few facts:
∷ Print newspaper readership ranged from 16% of forty-somethings to only 6% of those in their twenties, according to a survey released last year by the Pew Research Center. By contrast, Pew found that 30% of Americans aged 50-64 and 48% of those over the age of 65 had read a newspaper on the prior day.
∷ The repudiation of the print delivery system by young people is probably the single greatest factor in the sharp decline Pew detected in newspaper readership in the last decade. Pew found that only 29% of the American population read a newspaper in 2012, as compared with 56% in 1991 – the first time researchers asked the question.
∷ If you compare newspaper readership against the age distribution of the U.S. population, as I have done, then you will find that approximately three-quarters of the audience at the typical newspaper is 45 years of age or older, even though individuals in this cohort represent only 40% of the entire population. Attesting to the rapid shift in news consumption patterns, only half of newspaper readers were older than 45 when I ran the same numbers in 2010.
∷ The mature skew of the newspaper audience is a clear and present danger to publishers, because the sale of print advertising and subscriptions generates some 80% of the revenues at the typical newspaper. The industry’s dependence on print is a particular problem because geezers are not only undesirable to many advertisers but also can't be expected to live forever.
In light of the above, any serious effort on the part of publishers to migrate to digital publishing requires an understanding of the Digital Natives — the Generation Xers and Millenials — who grew up in front of all kinds of screens: televisions, computers, Xboxes, iPods, Razrs and, today, Androids and tablets.
Unfortunately, the digital strategy undertaken to date by most publishers is to port their newspaper-style content to the web and then repurpose the material to mobile devices. The warmed-over digital fare offered by the typical newspaper falls well short of the expectations of two whole generations of individuals who are not only empowered by technology to consume media but also know how to use it to make their own. This explains the explosive growth of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and a host of other do-it-yourself media.
As the Washington Post discovered years ago in its research, one of the biggest reasons Digital Natives don’t read newspapers is that they travel light: favoring renting over owning, flexibility over commitment and convenience over cost.
The distinct mindset of the Digital Native was captured in a recent presentation (pages 59-79 here) by Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the top venture-capital firms in Silicon Valley.
Dubbing the Digital Natives the “asset-light” generations, Meeker notes that young people don’t want to own CDs, haul around books, buy cars, carry cash, or do their own chores. Instead, they use their smartphones to buy, borrow or steal media; rent shared cars at home or book shared rooms when they travel; hire people to buy groceries or cut the grass, and use apps from Starbuck’s and Target to pay for lattes or redeem coupons. Many of the Digital Natives even prefer short-term gigs that allow them to arrange their work around their lives, rather than arrange their lives around their work.
Meeker believes the digital generations will change everything from the travel and credit card industries to the way health care and education are consumed.
The newspaper industry already has been profoundly disrupted. The only remaining question is what publishers will do about it.
© 2013 Editor & Publisher