Why should people still buy newspapers?

Continuing our analysis of how consumers read online, compared to print, we commissioned research looking at where people read news and how they feel when they are reading.

Last week, we discussed how people spend longer reading print newspapers than websites, and generally read more content. This week our research highlights that 43 per cent of people feel relaxed when reading a print newspaper compared with 34 per cent who read online. However, as this is less than a 10 per cent difference, it is not particularly striking.

How do you feel when you read the news?

Supplied by Opinium Research

Whether they are looking at print, or a screen, readers tend to be in their own homes. More newspapers are read at weekends than websites (23 per cent compared to 9 per cent), so this is one possible reason why people feel less rushed when they sit down with a paper.

Where are you when you read the news?

Supplied by Opinium Research

The way that consumers feel about print and screens is different, but our research suggests that these differences are not that extreme. So, does the cheapness and accessibility of online content mean that newspapers are doomed? Anne Massey, founder of PR agency The Editorial Consultancy, fears that they are. Two reasons she gives for this are: because digital communication is so inexpensive; and because of environmental pressures to reduce the consumption of raw materials.

Massey does not want to see the end of newspapers, and is concerned about how the popularity of online news is affecting content. She says: “What worries me is whether it will be possible to maintain the quality of unbiased news reporting in a digital world. When many people are obviously eager to voice their views without pay and if enough people are happy to consume opinion rather than fact, what incentive is there for any commercial organisation – other than state-financed bodies such as the BBC – to provide researched, unbiased content? Traditionally, all but the highest-powered, media-star journalists have been at the lower end of the print industry salary league, which is one reason why so many of them go into PR. Once costs such as print and paper are removed, journalists' pay may become the heaviest financial burden and human nature being what it is, if organisations can get away with cutting costs, they will.”

Tom Leatherbarrrow, head of business to business at agency Willoughby PR, is not so pessimistic about the future of print. He says: "Online will not completely replace print at least in the medium term, but I suspect the relationship will undergo profound change. Going forward I expect a 180 degree volte face with online becoming the main driver of publications rather than just a digital version of the hard copy. The online publication has the advantage of daily and hourly updates with the best of the articles and comments then included in a weekly print version with a much smaller print run. This delay will make valuable comment and analysis much more important, with breaking news likely to become a commodity product, available from multiple sources like the BBC, Reuters and Dow Jones.

Like Massey, Leatherbarrow is concerned about quality. He explains: “The key to both online and digital success of publications will be the quality of the analysis and journalism. I expect the best journalists to become 'must-read' brands of their own, possibly using their online comments as loss leaders, to generate a following on sites such as The Huffington Post, in order to sell subsequent books to their audience."

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We asked: “Can you imagine the day when you will no longer buy newspapers and magazines, but read everything online?”

Rassami Hok Ljungberg, director of PR agency rassami at NS&I:
“No! I would even happily pay for the privilege of having something on paper. If only for the comfort of holding something light and easy in your hands rather than an electronic device. I just don't always want to be staring at a screen ALL hours of the day, every day of the week.”

Amy Brook-Partridge, freelance journalist (based in Singapore):
“Yep, more and more so, particularly living here in Singapore where the local media is so censored and basically crap.”

Siamak Rastan, brand editorial manager at the state-owned investments organisation NS&I:
“I don't buy the Guardian any more now, I've got the iPhone app.”

Nicola Lowit, senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice:
“I read newspapers online but still buy magazines from time to time.”

MethodologyOpinium Research carried out 2004 online interviews in the UK. The research period was 21 May to 24 May 2010.