The problem with print

Student newspapers are facing the same kinds of problems all newspapers are facing

Some people just love having a fresh newspaper in their hands. They like the smell of the ink, they like the feel of the paper, they love having a physical object in their hands – something tangible. But to be honest, despite my chosen career and current job, I am no newspaper romantic. I’ve never felt too attached to reading ink on paper. I’ve always been content reading pixels on a screen.

Nonetheless, I do understand why people aren’t keen to give it up. They know that once the switch is made, a kind of tradition is lost. Worse still, some see the loss of a print newspaper as the weakening of a civic institution. After looking at the readership numbers for large publications, I’m inclined to agree. Sure, the loss of print might not mean loss of revenue, but it might mean fewer readers, or at least a shift in reader demographics. It’s a bit of a schism, forcing former print readers to move online.

Barring some major cultural change that pushes us back towards paper, nearly every newspaper will eventually have to make the decision to move online. Just last week, the University of Alberta’s student newspaper The Gateway opted to move its operations online, going from weekly issues to monthly issues and reorganizing its newsroom.

One factor in the Gateway’s move is the decline in advertising revenue. According to a report on the paper’s website, a 36 per cent decline is predicted for 2016 and years previous have been nearly as bad or worse.

Looking at the Omega’s operations, I can tell you that this is not an unfamiliar scenario to us. Our annual print ad revenue has declined by 58 per cent in the past five years. Thankfully, our position isn’t the same as their position. Advertising revenue comprised approximately 45 per cent of The Gateway’s budget, but for us, it only comprises approximately 25 per cent. To further soften the blow, our operating budget has slightly decreased in size over the years.

The Gateway could have held out longer. It could have continued producing a print edition until every last advertiser had left, but instead it made a bold move and forced itself online ahead of time. I’m thankful for that move as it will serve as a useful experiment in the student newspaper world. Leaving print behinds means leaving print advertisers behind, too, and giving up that huge chunk of revenue will complicate things along the way and cause dismay among print romantics.

Are you a print reader of the Omega? Your input would help, so why not share your thoughts?