Figures from the World Association of Newspapers showing that circulation and numbers of titles is up will come as no surprise to anyone who has noted the boom in Asia and Africa fueled by increasing prosperity and better education.
The basic global figures are that the total circulation of paid-for and free dailies together increased by 9.95 per cent over five years, followed by a year-on-year growth by 2.36 per cent in 2005.
But look also at the the figure for paid for dailies which increased by 6.39 per cent over five years, followed by 0.74 per cent year-on-year growth in 2005. If you can’t sell them you have to give them away.
There s a huge mass of figures in the WAN report and you can make more-or-less what you wish of them. Timothy Balding chief executive of WAN makes this of them:
The figures show that there has been a quiet revolution in the number of daily launches. This burgeoning growth of daily titles worldwide has largely gone unnoticed by market makers and media pundits obsessed with the digital media revolution. Meanwhile the real-world growth of newspaper titles and circulations continues inexorably.
Balding looks even more like a climate change denier when he says:
What we are seeing completely contradicts the conventional wisdom that newspapers are in terminal decline. Newspapers are doing far better than commonly believed. In fact, the figures confirm that the industry is healthy and vigorous and is successfully dealing with increasing competition from other media. The fashion of predicting the death of newspapers should be exposed for what it is — nothing more than a fashion, based on common assumptions that are belied by the facts.
Set aside the boom in Asia and Africa which is well-known, and look at what is happening in Europe. The 2005 figures were boosted by the distribution of more than 9 million free papers a day. Paid for sales in Europe declined by 6.3% in 2001-5 (Other figures are North America -4.47%, South America -7.29% and Australia and Oceania -3.04%).
With the free-distribution titles included Europe showed a five year increase of 2.13%. Since these figures there has been a continued increase in free papers and declines in paid-for circulations.
Larry Kilman, communications director at WAN, told the Guardian:
There has been a distinction between free dailies and paid-for dailies so people haven’t quite noticed the strength of print media, particularly in Europe. There is starting to be a realisation that of course they are print.
Stop treating us like idiots. Of course we recognise that the frees are printed. The point is that they are no replacement for The Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Mirror or the Sun. The day the Metro gets hold of a secret American video of their planes shooting British troops I will think about changing my mind.
The figures in the WAN report are fascinating and useful but the spin being put on them by the organisation is simplistic and unhelpful. I have never been one who believed the end of printed newspapers is close. But I believe a fundamental shift is taking place just as I believe in climate change. I can see and feel both of them.