Newspapers – are the chips down?

I read somewhere that the BBC launched the Radio Times because newspapers refused to carry listings for its programmes. Eighty years after the magazine first appeared, it’s often said that people only buy papers to find out what’s on TV (and the publishers now pay to publish the listings). So perhaps the BBC is revelling in the schadenfreude by running a series this week called Can Newspapers Survive? fronted by Guardian columnist Kim Fletcher. (If you missed it, you can listen again on the web.)

The first of the three-parter this morning quoted the Economist (a magazine that calls itself a newspaper) and its ‘Death of the Newspaper’ cover from April 2006 (editorial). It didn’t make any reference to the newspaper-magazine’s articles about ‘ the death of television’ and ‘the death of telephones’ in the mid-1990s. At least there’s a while to go then.

Of course, this is also the month Tyler Brûlé has chosen to expound in Monocle on his theory that there’s a great future for print. In ‘Paper tigers’, he quotes figures that newspaper circulations grew 2.3% last year. Of course, he’s taking a global view, whereas UK and US commentators are seeing declines (although, even here, papers like the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are bucking the trend).

A group of students once interviewed me for a video they were making entitled ‘The Death of the Book’. That was in the late 1990s when Microsoft was launching its book reader and talking about changing the definition of the work ‘book’ to render the word ‘paper’ in that definition an anachronism within 20 years. My view then was that the book would die when computers were in a form that you could roll up and put in your pocket, that you wouldn’t mind losing, and you could wrap your chips in. I still reckon paper has a way to go – even with E-Ink’s e-paper coming along.

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