An influential forecast of the global media business released this summer offered a grim outlook for the newspaper industry.
It turns out a co-author is based in Seattle, graduated from the University of Washington and is the daughter of a freelance journalist.
CJ Bangah also sees opportunities for newspapers to survive, and continue printing papers, despite big challenges and disruption they face.
Bangah, a PricewaterhouseCoopers consultant, is part of a team that produces the firm’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook report. The latest version sees U.S. newspaper revenues falling 2% and circulation falling 3.3% a year on average through 2026.
That’s despite its forecast of 4.6% compound annual growth in media and entertainment overall, including 6.6% average increases in advertising sales through 2026.
After I stopped shuddering, and Bangah returned from the report’s unveiling in France, we discussed what the newspaper industry is facing and how it might survive.
Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:
Q: Why does your report see strong print growth for books but not newspapers?
A: You’re seeing consumers get more and more of their news through short-form videos, email distribution lists, through things like social media, whereas with books the print book still has quite a high affinity, particularly with folks who just prefer it. There isn’t that great competitive pressure for books where there is for newspapers, where there’s more competition with the platforms that are available.
Q: Some newspaper consumers still have strong affinity for print.
A: They absolutely do.
Q: Is there an opportunity to build on that or is it too late?
A: If you look at print publications that still have potential, they’re doing a few things to remain viable and relevant and innovative. They’re making the printed page really compelling and they’re focused on really offering a lot of value to consumers. To your point, there are some consumers who just really love reading the Sunday newspaper and some consumers love reading it seven days a week. There are also consumers that would find it more convenient to have more engaging, immersive news experiences, whether you’re looking at the metaverse or stuff between now and web 3.0. So I don’t think you would say there’s no future in it — our data suggests there absolutely will continue to be a sizable audience that is engaging with traditional newspapers. I just think the innovation opportunities are growing more and more important for publications.
Q: Maybe there’s an opportunity like the vinyl resurgence in recorded music. Maybe a new generation turns to print for authenticity and style.
A: If there’s a broader purpose and a broader value, authenticity is absolutely a tremendous focus, particularly for the younger generation. They’re looking for trusted providers of information, for things that align with their own values and their own culture and things that are critical to them. So if there’s a combination of innovation in format and delivery and storytelling and focus, and a continued emphasis on trusted, transparent, safe, reliable and predictable (news) — these different dimensions coming together pave a potential way for valued, legacy print news to remain relevant and change the trajectory of growth, where you’re capturing the print audience, you’re capturing the digital audience and more importantly you’re capturing a broader definition of the consumer.
Q: The report emphasized opportunities for legacy newspapers to innovate. Does that apply across the industry, or will the few that can afford a lot of investment succeed?
A: Financial funding on its own is not always the motherhood of innovation. If you look at some of the successful companies now, they started out small with not a lot of capital. Finding new ways to do more and “do different” without necessarily throwing a tremendous amount of capital at it does seem to be the need here.
That kind of thinking, of how can we be really focused on playing to our strengths as a local publisher, and finding new ways to authentically connect with communities we serve, is a bit more of what I meant when I said there’s an opportunity for innovation. That could be anything from looking at in-person events to content catalog overhaul to publishing cadence updates to digital hybrid nuances like pricing, packaging.
What the right competitive platform is, and the right investments, are really going to be all over the place depending on what kind of publication you are and the power and engagement you have with the consumers that are buying from you.
Q: If trends continue, the model suggests newspapers’ business eventually gets to zero, doesn’t it?
A: This is a question I fielded a few years ago for traditional TV — does traditional TV go away? We don’t in our forecast period go to zero. You could argue “CJ, you only go out five years, what if you go out 20 years?” The broader environment would suggest it needs to be reinvented. You are going to have an evolved competitive landscape. But I don’t think we are, in the next 10 years or probably even 15 years, looking at a world where print news goes to zero. I do think we’re looking at a world where the role print news plays in the broader entertainment and media ecosystem absolutely is facing some transformation and continued destruction.
Q: I read your outlook for newspapers as being very bleak but you injected some positive notes. How do you feel really about the news industry’s outlook — is it bleak?
A: Across traditional media and entertainment there’s the opportunity to transform and transform in a way that helps to bridge the trust gap and provides real service to consumers and the industry at large. Any kind of change can feel hard and destructive and it can feel daunting. But I think with the right strategic focus and investments, and keeping the consumer front and center, with appropriate digitization and embracing the world we’re in now and not the world we were in 40 years ago, I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about.
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