What is a… newspaper?

Yesterday I found out the news about Bradley Wiggins’ road accident from The Sun newspaper. It’s not a publication that I bought – but at Waterloo Station in London there are large digital display screens that at the moment have the latest headlines from The Sun newspaper. Except, of course, because it’s live and it’s digital, these headline haven’t actually been printed on paper and distributed through newsagents in the traditional way – they amount to the newest news.

Co-incidentally a bit later yesterday morning I found myself in a session being run by a couple of folk from JCDecaux. apparently “the world’s largest out-of-home advertising company”. They are the people who own and operate the screens on which the headlines from The Sun run, and this is where the story gets really interesting.

Traditionally, a newspaper has made its money from two main sources; the revenue after costs from its cover price, and the revenue from selling advertising space. Yesterday, I found out the news from The Sun via advertising space that they had rented to be able to show their news. The world turns inside out…

As with so many parts of the media, the newspaper industry is in a state of turmoil, driven largely by the impact of the Internet and other media  on their business model; it comes in so many directions: the value of “news” has changed dramatically in a world of 24 hour news channels, and Internet distribution of content; “citizen journalism” and the crowdsourcing of news and visual content has emerged through social networks; advertising models have changed as digital advertising has put more focus on precise targeting of required customers rather than mass reach.

My own consumption of newspapers has changed dramatically in the last three years, but I’m not sure how much of that is as a result of becoming a parent as opposed to some of these more seismic shifts. My newspaper of choice is The Guardian (I’m a woolly liberal, if you hadn’t guessed) and although these days I very rarely buy a copy, I spend as much if not more time with their content through web, apps and podcasts than I did when I bought the Saturday edition and spent a couple of hours with it in a pub of a lunchtime. But quite how much revenue I’m generating for them as a purely digital consumer is another story…

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