Are we witnessing the death of the Scottish press? There were once more newspaper readers per head in Scotland than in any other country. Today sales of major Scottish titles, including the Herald and Scotsman, are down two-thirds on heyday glory.
In the mid-nineties Scotland on Sunday would sell over 100,000 copies; last year this figure was just 33,000. The Sunday Post was once read by over half the Scottish population; last year it was selling 160,000 copies.
The heavy decline has happened over the last eight years.
Scotland’s national press has faced predatory competition from national British titles which publish their own Scottish editions, and some would say the owners of the Scottish press have alienated readers with their editorial policies on several important issues, but, more than any other factor, the decline of the press is probably attributable to the rise of the internet.
(I personally suspect it’s due more specifically to the rise of social media on the internet. Little social media content merits description as serious news but it has nonetheless supplanted the regular reading of a newspaper. How many people now spend an hour a day on Facebook who in a previous generation would’ve been reading a paper – even if only a red top tabloid?)
The question is perhaps not so much whether the press is dying as whether a newspaper’s website can really be as important, ‘authoritative’ and ‘newsworthy’ as a newspaper (not to mention as profitable as papers are, or were)? Is viewing a website a significant daily event like buying a daily newspaper used to be for millions of British people, and will people pay for access to content?
Consider that the [Glasgow-based] Herald’s online readership increased by two-thirds between 2013 and 2014. The Newsquest publishing firm (which owns the Herald) made 40% of its profit from its online business last year.
Whatever happens with the printed news industry over the next twenty years, I believe what really does matter is that high quality journalism prevails and prospers, providing reliable factual stories which continue to inform large numbers of people.
An ill-informed, non-reading society would not be good at all.