Early in 2006 I was featured in the now defunct Nova newspaper and about a week later the paper shut down. Back in 2004 I was featured on the front page of ThisDay newspaper and shortly afterwards it was also shutdown. Now if I was superstitious I would think those were bad omens for me.
I’m not. So it must be a sign of the times – no pun intended. The exact demographic Nova was targeting has had 10 years of exposure to the Web and to mobile phones. According to the Pew Internet & America Life Project, online news is the primary source for people with broadband. And although broadband is still young in South Africa its growing double digit numbers. And again the demographics of the above publications has the best Internet and mobile access in the country.
My colleague, Arthur Goldstuck, predicts that by the end of 2007 we will have about 800,000 broadband users. The cellphone chat service, MXit, has just crossed 5 million subscribers in less than 2 years – with about 80% between 12-25 years old. So although there is only about 4 million Internet users and approximately 32 million cellphone users in South Africa, the biggest consumers of news also have the best Internet access, which allows them to read news online.
The future trends based on what has happened in countries like South Korea is that these two markets (Internet and Mobile users) will converge at some future point. And in South Africa heading for 2010 will accelerate growth so unlike Arthur Goldstuck I don’t believe things are slowing down. There is also significant growth in the Internet Cafe industry. The death of newspapers makes the front page headlines almost irrelevant.
And what of news? Services like Google News, OhMyNews and NowPublic is radically changes the way in which news is consumed and produced. With the rise of Citizen’s Journalism, we find the consumers becoming the producers of their own news. Until the rise of Google News I was using My! Yahoo to read filtered and customised news. These days I am reading even more filtered news through my RSS Feeds.
In South Africa the Mail & Guardian and The Times has done a phenomenal job integrating social media from blogs, to podcasts to video, and therefore are in the best position to retain those readers who stopped buying their print editions. Now I ask you how can an traditional printed newspaper compete without embracing this kind of flexibility.
Teenagers inherently understand this and therefore they will never go backwards to read print publications. The digital future is the way forward and any newspaper who does not embrace this will die. The scariest version of the future of newspapers is brilliantly demonstrated in this fictional, futuristic clip, Epic 2014: