Senior newspaper executives from around the world are meeting in Barcelona this week to discuss the future of print media. Experts agree that high quality and multimedia elements will ensure the newspaper's survival.
The Internet age has revolutionized the way people interact with media. But it has also sparked the demise of the printed newspaper.
In the United States, a number of regional papers have folded in the past two years. Others, such as the renowned Christian Science Monitor, have resorted to a weekly print issue and are otherwise "only" available online.
In Europe, however, newspaper publishers are looking for a more integrated approach, said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers' Council.
"We are in the most amazing state of transition from print to online right now," Wade said. "The challenge is to make sure that the interest in the content we're producing, no matter how it's distributed, is sufficient to continue financing that content." She said this could also involve paying for online content.
Wade said she did not believe that newspapers would die off in Europe, as is the case in the US.
"I think the difference between the US and Europe is that there's a more deep-seated cultural tradition in newspapers here and I think it would be harder to brush that away," Wade said.
Hans Joachim Fuhrmann, spokesman for the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers BDZV, agreed.
"The newspaper-reading culture here is completely different than in the US," Fuhrmann said. "We also have a much stronger regional concentration."
Volker Wolff, a professor at the University of Mainz's Journalism Seminar, said he thinks change will come.
"Of course, newspapers are going to die off here in Germany, too," Wolff said.
Change is necessary
Industry experts agree, though, that things have to change in the newspaper sector.
"Here in Germany, but also all over the western world, we are in a transformation process regarding the classical printed newspaper," Fuhrmann said. "Newspapers have to transform themselves into multimedia companies."
According to Wolff, newspapers should not try to compete directly with online content.
"Newspapers can't write the same things you find on the Internet," Wolff said. "They have to concentrate on regional information and also on background stories. The future of newspapers lies in qualitative valuable stories, like those magazines previously covered."
But this will have a corresponding price tag.
"For those which survive, it's going to be expensive," Wolff said. High-quality newspapers will cost more.
Question of the right solutions
Though newspapers are suffering, Wade said one shouldn't underestimate the amount of newspapers read.
According to figures by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), print newspapers attract more than 1.7 billion readers a day worldwide.
"Gavin O'Reilly, WAN's chairman, once said that more adults read a newspaper every day than eat a Big Mac every year," Wade said. "So though there may be a long term decline in percentage terms in newspaper consumption, there are nevertheless a growing number of people who have an appetite for reading news, comment and debate from trusted brands, from fact-based journalism."
WAN is convinced that dailies have a future.
"Print continues to be the main revenue generator for newspapers and it will continue to be for a long time," WAN spokesman Larry Kilman told news agency AFP. He said WAN believed that solutions existed to enable media companies to combine the paper and screen to be profitable.
A WAN conference on the power of print media vis-a-vis the Internet, especially at this time of economic crisis, is currently on in Barcelona until Thursday.
A new generation of newspaper readers
The integration of online elements and interactive features can attract younger readers, in particular, to a newspaper's site.
"The illness of non-reading has hit Germany just as much as other countries," Wolff said. This was particularly the case with the younger generation.
"In India, newspapers are a status symbol: if you can read, you have a newspaper," Wolff said. "Here in old Europe it's the same problem everywhere: an aging population, non-reading youth, a drop in advertising sales, dwindling markets."
But the German government is trying to get more people interested in newspapers and last year launched a national initiative for print media. It aims to increase public awareness of the importance of print media as a key political medium and is particularly geared towards promoting media competency among young readers.
Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Bernd Neumann, said, despite the enormous growth of electronic media, newspapers and magazines are still the key political media in German society.
"Whoever wants to get a reliable and multi-sided picture of fundamental political and societal issues remains dependent on the printed word," Neumann said at the initiative's annual meeting earlier this month.
According to Neumann, the printed word in particular encouraged democratic cohesion.
"As opposed to the Internet, it directs awareness to that which is important to everyone – independent of whether it is of personal interest for an individual or not," Neumann said.
But, he said that print and online media don't have to exclude each other, but rather be complementary.
"Whoever reads newspapers and magazines acquires the possibility to deal critically with Internet offers and profit more consciously from information sources," Neumann said.
Children and teenagers should, therefore, learn to differentiate between media, whether digital or classic, he said.