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Newspaper revival tipped to be short-lived

Young people read dailies only half as much as their parents' generation, according to one media expert RDB

A recent rise in Swiss newspaper circulation is not expected to reverse a trend away from mainstay traditional titles towards free editions and the internet.

This content was published on September 9, 2009 - 08:17

The latest research has revealed that most printed media gained readers in the 12 months between April 2008 and May of this year. This included traditional paid-for titles that have been losing ground in recent years.

Quality newspapers such as the Tages-Anzeiger, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, their Sunday editions and Le Temps made unexpected gains alongside the growing popularity of free commuter tabloids, according to statistics from market research company WEMF.

But the industry is not holding its breath that newly established readership habits towards free papers and websites will be reversed.

"We do not expect a shift in the general trend of declining readership of subscription newspapers. We view this more as a blip than a turnaround," spokesman Christoph Zimmer, of publishing house Tamedia, told swissinfo.ch.

Shifting sands

In common with many countries, the Swiss media landscape has undergone significant changes over the past two decades. Publishers are tackling the challenges by diversifying their offering with free papers, news websites and even television channels.

But in addition, profits and some jobs have declined at traditional newspapers that are becoming more and more the preserve of older readers.

"Young people read dailies only half as much as the previous generation," said Roger Blum, a media expert at Bern University. "We have to get used to a future with fewer of these titles that are read by an elite section of the population," he told swissinfo.ch.

Blum believes the recent upswing in readership may be caused by the downward trend bottoming out.

However, Zimmer disagreed that people are less inclined to read newspapers, arguing that many have instead switched to free titles. Tamedia produces the most successful of these, 20 Minutes, in both German and French, that is read by nearly two million people a day.

"A lot of experts think the print market is nearly dead, but it still draws the vast majority of advertising revenues. More people than ever are now reading dailies thanks to the growth of free newspapers," he said.

Advertisers stay behind

But the shift towards free newspapers appears to be coming at a cost. The market has now become so crowded that some titles are losing out – Tamedia has recently been forced to scale back another free edition called News.

And Blum does not believe that advertisers are following the same trend as readers, preferring to pay bigger bucks to place their products in established newspapers that are not flicked through so quickly.

"With the current economic difficulties advertisers are scaling back and only placing adverts in tried and tested media such as Sunday newspapers or television," he said. "In the coming months free newspapers will face a tough time as they are funded by adverts."

Research last year by tax and audit advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) showed that the Swiss media and entertainment industry was enjoying increased profits just before the recession hit.

Online potential

It also found that online media advertising revenues made up only a small fraction of total income and predicted it would account for just nine per cent by 2012.

But Zimmer was confident that advertising revenues would catch up with readers and the new media platforms being offered.

"The Swiss online media market is one of the least developed in Western Europe, but there is huge potential to increase readership and advertising revenues in the years to come," he said.

Matthew Allen, swissinfo.ch

Survey

23,682 people were surveyed by Swiss market research company WEMF about their reading habits between April 2008 and May 2009.

92.4% said they regularly read daily, weekly or Sunday newspapers – up 0.6% from the previous year.

The free commuter newspaper 20 Minutes showed further circulation gains. The German edition was read by 1,417,000 people a day (1,365,000 the year before) and the French edition had 526,000 readers (488,000).

But more traditional daily qualities also saw a welcome boost in popularity (selected titles):
Tages-Anzeiger 487,000 (479,000)
SonntagsZeitung (Sunday version of Tages-Anzeiger) 835,000 (774,000)
Neue Zürcher Zeitung 306,000 (294,000)
NZZ am Sonntag 492,000 (468,000)
Berner Zeitung 395,000 (388,000)
Basler Zeitung 169,000 (168,000)
Neue Luzerner Zeitung 278,000 (269,000)
Le Temps 137,000 (128,000)
Tribune de Genève 159,000 (154,000)

Even magazines showed improved readership figures. The only notable exception to the trend was the tabloid Blick, Switzerland's most popular paid-for daily declined slightly from 651,000 daily readers to 649,000.

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