Get ready to wave newspapers goodbye

A recent trip to the USA brought home to me just how quickly the media world is changing, and how much print is under threat.

Newspapers have been suffering for some time, since their major source of revenue, classified advertising, has been taken away by the Internet. In countries with widespread, fast internet access, people turn to sites such as Craigslist, for example, to advertise and find a wide range of goods and services.  As a result of this and other trends, experts have been warning that newspapers are dying.

But in the last few months, this has started to happen, on a large scale. Just recently, an old and much-loved newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed down. The newspaper was 146 years old, with a very loyal readership, but the publishers lost $14-million on it in the last year. It will continue as an online-only publication, with a fraction of the staff.

These days in the US, most towns only have one newspaper, where in past years there used to be two. Other venerable publications, like the Boston Globe, are under serious threat.

Things are so bad that even that benchmark of newspapers, the New York Times, is seriously ailing. The newspaper is still respected, still popular and still widely read, but its share price has tumbled dramatically in past years and months, and is now sitting at around $4 — just about the same price as a copy of the newspaper itself. That price is so low, it’s considered junk. To get a sense of how quickly this has happened, shares in the New York Times were at a high of over $50 in 2002, and at $20 just last year.

Even books as we know them may soon disappear. There are now a few electronic book readers on the market, such as Amazon’s Kindle, and they seem to work pretty well. it’s a screen about the size of your average paperback book, but much thinner, and you can upload several books onto it, and read them at your leisure. You can also buy books online, and instantly download them. These devices are still very expensive, but no doubt they’ll get cheaper over time. I’ve always said I’d never give up paper books for electronic ones, but I saw a couple of people using Kindles on trains and buses, and actually, they looked good enough to make me change my mind.

In Africa, I think print will be with us for a good few years yet. Newspapers are gaining readers, not losing them, and very, very few people can afford to get their news online, let alone buy a Kindle or similar device. But things are changing fast, so who knows?

And to be sure, anyone seeking to reach a global audience needs to very quickly get to grips with the digital world of new media.

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