Is English killing our newspapers?

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japanese_newspaper

A really interesting article from the Japan times here, detailing the fairly minor (but worsening) woes of the Japanese newspaper industry. The Japanese buy more newspapers per head than almost any other nation on Earth (around 624 papers per 1000 people per day), and newspaper sales have declined by a relatively slight 3.2% over the past ten years, which in the age of the internet is fairly phenomenal. Even with these reductions in sales, Japanese newspapers seem far less suseptible to the whims of the market – the article states that only 30% of their revenue is garnered through advertising, with cover-prices encompassing most of the rest (making them, in turn, far more expensive than papers over here).

Another major reason, however, that newspaper sales are holding up so well in Japan as opposed to Britain and America is that the newspaper companies made a conscious decision a few years ago to restrict their online presence (as noted in this Marketing article here). Deloitte looked into the British newspaper market to devise possible strategies for the industry to adopt to remain profitable in the digital age, which is taken up in the article as follows –

…[a Deloitte] report offers publishers the controversial suggestion of “significantly reducing” their online activity, in an attempt to drive people back to the physical product.

To support the stance, Deloitte points to the press market in Japan, which has always restricted its online presence, and where titles have suffered lower declines in readership and advertising than its North American and European peers.

Could British newspapers shift away from online to drive print sales, especially after having invested so much money in their online presences over the past ten years? I’m sure if they all clubbed together and took their sites offline permanently then sales might rise in the short term, but the truth of it is that whilst Japanese newspapers are doing incredibly well without a significant online presence, this system just wouldn’t be sustainable for our papers because they are written in English. English is, after all, the language of the internet, with figures as to the percentage of pages online written in English ranging from 70-80%, whilst japanese comes in at around 3-4%.

So much information exists online in English that if British newspapers were to restrict their online presence British people would simply go elsewhere (aside from the obvious Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Reuters etc., Twitter, social networks, blogs and almost any other platform you can think of online can be used to find news, sometimes even more quickly than “traditional” online news sources) – Japanese papers, however, don’t have to worry about their language suddenly exploding across the world and amplifying their reader’s sources of news ten-thousandfold, so they can probably get away with restricting their online content in a way British papers can’t.

Maybe instead they should just go after the internet itself?

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