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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Newspapers face up to new media
By Peter Feuilherade
in Seoul

Media executives at the WAN conference
Some 1,300 delegates are in Seoul for the conference
Newspapers are far from dead, despite the challenge from online news and blogs, media executives have been told.

At the world's biggest annual print media gathering, organised by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), speakers were upbeat about the prospects for print.

Newspaper circulation rose slightly in 2004, according to the newspaper body.

But the industry still faces many challenges from new media, some 1,300 delegates were told.

Timothy Balding, WAN director-general, told delegates at the organisation's annual congress in Seoul that global newspaper sales were up 2.1% during what he called an "extremely positive" year for the industry.

Newspaper advertising revenues also made significant gains in 2004.

And unlike previous years, growth was driven not only by gains in developing markets, but increased sales in many established markets.

Chinese readers

WAN's annual survey of world press trends published at the Seoul congress also showed that:

  • global newspaper sales hit a new daily high of 395 million in 2004
  • the five largest markets are China, with 93.5 million copies sold daily; India (78.8 million); Japan (70.4 million); the United States (48.3 million); and Germany (22.1 million)
  • the audience for newspaper websites grew 32% last year, and 350% over five years from a very low base
  • 2004 saw the best advertising performance in four years, with a revenue increase of 5.3%
"Newspapers are clearly undergoing a renaissance through new products, new formats, new titles, new editorial approaches, better distribution and better marketing," Mr Balding said.

"Despite the incredible competitive challenges in the advertising market, newspapers have more than held their own and their revenues are strongly on the increase again."

But he warned that although newspapers' online revenues were on the increase, this did not mean the internet posed no threat to the industry.

Traditional papers squeezed

Speakers cautioned against complacency, predicting that free papers, online news sites, and the spread of blogs and other non-mainstream news sources would put growing pressure on the readership of traditional newspapers.

Newspaper reader in Africa
Newspaper circulation across the world has risen
Their comments echoed remarks by News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch in April this year when he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors: "I believe too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers."

The challenge now for established newspaper groups is not just to respond to changes in the consumption of electronic media, but to start profiting from the new ways that audiences access their media.

Providing content to mobile devices, involving readers in the newsgathering process, and reaching out to young news consumers are just some of the approaches that the traditional press should be adopting with gusto, the WAN congress was told.

"It is somewhat ironic that in a year in which the newspaper is 400 years old, or perhaps more fittingly, 400 years young, so many media commentators are still suggesting that the game is up for newspapers," said Gavin O'Reilly, WAN's acting president.

"After 400 years of newspapers rightly dominating the media landscape, and successfully weathering the onslaught of radio, TV and latterly the new digital age, it's hard to see the full-time whistle blowing quite yet."

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