Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dutch newspapers on the decline?

Dutch newspapers have been on the decline for years. Every year they loose a few percentages of readers. This process has set in at the beginning of the nineties. It has been aggravated by the grey wave (I am 61 since two days); the baby boomers are becoming babysitters. In 1995 I wrote a Dutch language article saying that by 2005 Dutch newspapers would start disappearing due to internet. (I was working for the newspaper company Wegener at that time). So far it did not happen, but newspaper publishers are still loosing ground.

Newspapers in the Netherlands are a different business from the States or the UK. Newspapers in the Netherlands have subscribers; they are hardly sold in the streets. And the Netherlands does not have a tradition of Sunday papers, despite the launch of the Telegraaf on Sunday; so the printed Saturday newspapers are very heavy. There are two free broadsheets: Metro and Spits.

Yesterday was the quarterly stats day on which the latest circulation figures were published. This time they were anxiously awaited as in September seven regional newspapers of the PCM and Wegener corporations would show their figures. The folding of these seven companies into the existing AD was made to prevent further loss of subscribers by the newspapers individually. Had they stop the loss? From the headlines it is not clear. The Dutch financial daily calls it a success; other media believe AD Combination lost. If you add up the subscriptions of the seven separate newspapers at the start of the new newspaper in September 2005, they had 585.000.000 subscribers; yesterday Wegener published the figure of 555.000 subscribers at the end of the year. A loss of 30.000 subscribers in a little bit more than a quarter. But both publishers say that the subscriptions are stabilising.

But the Dutch newspapers have suffered an overall loss of four per cent in paid circulation (3,8 million copies). In the free broadsheet (657.609 copies) there was an increase of 14 per cent.

What directions can the Dutch newspapers go?

Free broadsheets are mainly read by young people. They like to read the bulleted stories of the newswire in 20 minutes. They do not like the background stories from journalists and freelancers; they seek their own opinion makers on internet. For a publisher the advertisement space of a free broadsheet is limited. This option is not a growth scenario.

PCM the largest newspaper corporation in the Netherlands said that it was attracting new payments thanks to new subscription formats. De Volkskrant has now 10.000 subscribers to the electronic version; NRC-Handelsblad 4.000 subscribers. Also the other newspapers have introduced e-papers. But this growth is very slow. Another invention was the weekend subscription (during the week the e-paper and on Saturday the heavy printed paper).

Diversification is another direction for Dutch newspapers. But they experience many limitations here as they are not (yet) allowed to buy TV and radio stations. So the diversification is still in internet, which does not deliver any returns yet. But de Volkskrant has focussed on the single market and produces printed newspapers and Christmas single dinners.

The Dutch newspapers still have a time window to find new sources of income. How big this window is, I am not sure. Ten years ago I said that the time window was closing in 2005; now I would say that there is no time window anymore by 2010. By that time the newspaper companies should be media companies on the penalty of extinction.


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