Most newspaper and magazine consumers prefer to read by holding a physical paper in their hands,' reveals Nepal Media Survey (NMS) 2022 conducted by Sharecast Initiative Nepal. The survey report further states that the future of newspapers in Nepal still looks promising but proper marketing outreach and distribution channel are vital for securing its brighter prospect. The finding is a chink of light to all those still engaged and associated with print journalism, and to all those who love this oldest form of journalism. But, will newspapers and magazines in the country survive in the coming days as the death of newspapers and magazines has become a global phenomenon?
The American Society of Newspaper Editors formed in 1922 dropped the word ‘Newspaper’ from its name and became the American Society of News Editors in 2009. The Christian Science Monitor shifted from a daily print format to an online publication and the physical paper turned to weekly in 2009. Weekly newsmagazine Asiaweek ceased to get published in December 2001. There are examples galore.
The State of Local News 2022 says that newspapers are continuing to vanish faster, more than two a week on average. According to the report, since 2005, America has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose a third by 2025. The surviving newspapers – especially the dailies – have cut staff and circulation significantly as print revenues and profits declined. Nepali media people have witnessed the declining print readership and the death of many newspapers and magazines in the last couple of years. Online media has emerged as the biggest challenger. Further, COVID-19 proved to be a nail in the coffin.
Records of the Department of Information and Broadcasting (DIB) show that a total of 7,369 newspapers, including 676 dailies, 33 semi-weeklies, 2,803 weeklies and 463 fortnightlies, were registered with the DIB by the end of the fiscal year 2015/16. The number reached 7,911 by the end of 2021/22. Out of which, there were 754 dailies, 40 semi-weeklies, 2,975 weeklies and 480 fortnightlies. The figure shows that the number of registered papers has increased by less than 8 per cent in the last six years.
However, all the registered papers are not being published. Press Council Nepal (PCN)'s database shows that a total of 3,795 newspapers (644 dailies, 31 semi-weeklies, 2,718 weeklies and 402 fortnightlies) were recorded in the publication registration record of the council in FY 2015/16. Of which, 839 (22.11 per cent) were found published. Similarly, in 2021/22, a total of 4,026 newspapers (717 dailies, 30 semi-weeklies, 2,879 weeklies and 400 fortnightlies) were recorded. Of these, 799 (19.85 per cent) were found published.
Irregularity of publication is another serious problem. PCN data reveals that 26.7 per cent of 839 publishing newspapers were irregular in 2015/16. Similarly, 8.72 per cent of 963 publishing newspapers were irregular in 2021/22. (Data for 2015/16 excludes monthlies, bimonthlies, quarterlies and papers under the 'other' category.) Though the ratio of irregular publication of newspapers seems declined, the number of unpublished papers is high. On the other hand, according to PCN data, the number of listed online media portals has increased by about tenfold during the same period – from 372 in 2015/16 to 3,494 in 2021/22. PCN does a listing of online media portals.
In addition to increasing digital platforms, radio stations and television channels are also posing a challenge to newspapers. The number of licenses issued for FM radio stations has reached 1,176 from 652 and televisions 237 from 85 during the same period. However, according to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, around 701 FM radios and 71 televisions are broadcasting regularly as of mid-March 2022. Some prominent news magazines shifted from print to digital platforms. Others ceased to operate. The print news media has not yet fully returned to its old rhythm.
In such a gloomy situation, the Sharecast survey report, however, has raised some hopes. If some pertinent issues raised in the report are being dealt with properly, chances are there that the print media may get longer life. The report indicates that many possible newspaper consumers do not read because it is not available in their homes. The report suggests that proper marketing outreach and fixing distribution channel is one solution to expand the life of the newspaper industry for a few more years.
That is why the newspaper industry should scrutinise and, if needed, restructure the delivery mechanism to tap those audiences. Circulation departments of concerned newspaper organisations should listen to the complaints seriously, solve the problems sincerely and introduce a compensation system wholeheartedly for undelivered papers. Lapses in the delivery system not only lead towards the stoppage of subscriptions but also spread negative image about the paper.
Strengthening the editorial department and improving the editorial content are other pertinent issues that need to be addressed immediately. According to the Sharecast report, the majority of newspaper readers read just news headlines and one in two reads only front-page content. For some, content is tedious. So, they do not read newspapers/magazines. The editorial team should make a work plan to attract potential readers' attention and motivate them to read the newspaper. The management needs to support this wholeheartedly.
Trustworthiness is still a big asset of physical newspapers. According to the report, although the readership of newspapers/magazines is just around 15 per cent of the adult population, 30 per cent of respondent says the print medium is ‘very trustworthy’ while 69 per cent call them ‘trustworthy’. Contrary to this, only 3 per cent of respondents trust social media content. Similarly, 8 per cent of respondents trust online portals whereas 89 per cent trust a little and 3 per cent do not trust at all. The newspaper industry should be able to cash in on this readers’ trust as an opportunity to sustain itself.
Repeating the registered number of newspapers does make no sense. Some sort of mechanism should be developed to delist the unpublished newspapers from the record. Similarly, the possibility of mergers or acquisitions of newspapers should be analysed, identified, discussed and, if found viable, materialised. Newspapers hold archival value; which online media lacks in general. This is also a plus point for the newspapers.
(Shrestha is a freelancer.)