A sad day for British journalism”. “The best front pages in the business”.“It will be sorely missed on my morning commute”. These were the phrases uttered when it was revealed that the Independent is to permanently cease printing at the end of this month, becoming the first national British newspaper to move its entire operation online. People were shocked and saddened by the announcement of what will surely be a defining moment in the history of British media.
But in reality, when was the last time that you picked up a newspaper? This morning? Last Sunday? Last month? Chances are, many of us don’t remember. Similarly, the BBC, arguably the world’s biggest and most influential broadcasting company, last month moved BBC 3, one of its most popular services, online in its entirety, fully confident that the service will still offer “distinctive content” online.
“Oh, I just do it online now” has to be one of the most commonly spoken sentences of this decade, as, increasingly, everything that we do continues to move into the ether. Our morning news, some down-time entertainment, the weekly shop and more are now easily accessible anytime, anywhere, thanks to the growth in services such as Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, online supermarkets and online news services; all of which are attracting millions of users every month.
There is no denying; the world has gone digital. But, at what rate is this change actually advancing? The vast majority of Concrete readers are under 25 years of age. We use the internet far more than our grandparents, parents, and perhaps even our older siblings. Perhaps, in some ways, we are bound to think that everything is accessible online, far more so than other proportions of the population.
Moreover, if and when these changes do become more permanent, what will and does this mean for global culture? Are we replacing historical values, systems and traditions with shinier, quicker, newer ways of doing things? Or is this not a matter of replacement, but a matter of reinvention; a widening of the market, some extra room for creativity?
According to the statistics, it would seem that we are altering our consumption habits rapidly, with newspaper sales appearing to be hardest hit. In five years, physical newspaper readership has dropped by approximately a quarter. Whilst most regional publications seem to have maintained regular readership, some, especially the free London Evening Standard, which prints 900,000 copies every day, the same cannot be said nationwide. From the ten London nationals – including the Guardian, the Mirror, the Sun and the Independent – circulation and readership dropped from more than 9.7 million in 2010, to an approximate seven million in the year to 31st March 2015.
Only the Times escaped substantial loss, losing around 0.9% of its readership over the year, compared with 7% at the Mirror, 9.5% at the Guardian, 5% at the Daily Mail and more than 10% at the Sun. Meanwhile, the last official figures released in 2015 suggest that 41% of people access news online daily, a significant departure from the approximate 11% who read a national newspaper.
However, is this apparent lack of demand for print media a constant trend? Issue 1,178 of Charlie Hebdo magazine – the first one published after the Jihadi attacks at the publication’s print offices that killed 12 of their journalists – sold more than eight million copies, a French national record for the number of copies of any one publication sold within seven days of print. It is worth noting that the usual circulation of Charlie Hebdo is 60,000 copies. Similarly, on 3rd May 2015, the day after the birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, newspaper circulation in the UK approached eight million, an approximate 10% increase on usual sales.
Newspapers seem to increase in popularity in the wake of standout events, whether euphoric or tragic. Print is now used as a form of commemoration, something only purchased once in a while when there is something worth remembering. The responsibility of providing up-top-date, daily, world news has fallen to the online distributors, whereas sentimentality has become the remit of the more traditional outlets.
It is not just print media changing at the hands of the Internet, however: music products are experiencing a decline in sales similar to their print media counterparts. Since the launch of the iTunes store 12 years ago, sales of CDs have dwindled. Whereas iTunes is rapidly heading towards its 50 billionth sale, having hit the 35 billion mark two years ago, UK CD sales fell by another 4% last year to 53 million, compared to 174 million in 2005.
However, this news is not necessarily as bad for the CD as it may seem: whilst physical sales did drop last year, their decline was nothing in comparison to that of the download in Britain, which saw a 13% drop in sales over the same period. After a decade of 10,000 songs in our pocket it seems that there may be a return to the classics, a frontier championed by the vinyl record. Vinyl sales surged by 65% last year, reaching their peak in the six weeks leading up to Christmas and coming close to the sale of one million units. This is not to say, however, that digital has died completely, rather that it could be transforming. iTunes is certainly not struggling – any company that can sell 25 million songs a day is doing well – but it is starting to lose out to competitors, particularly Spotify; the streaming service now has 30 million paid subscribers and a further 50 million daily users of its free service.
Just as is true of newspapers, there is a certain sense of sentimentality apparently developing around music sales. The ease and relatively low price of the of technological options maintains the modern way as the preferred format for many, however, as the surge in vinyl sales suggest, there is still that desire for something special, perhaps something sentimental, to be held in a physical form rather than the simpler digital format.
Is the world dying a death at the hand of the digital? Or are we in fact rekindling an old flame, reminded of what it is we have been missing?