17 May 2021. Print Media has seen significant disruption during the coronavirus pandemic and there are signs of changing consumer relationships with news and print media. Familiarity with, and use of, online platforms has increased. Will the ending of lockdowns herald an opportunity for traditional print media channels to regain lost ground?
A study, conducted by the not-for-profit organisation Two Sides and independent research company Toluna, aims to understand changing consumer perceptions towards print and paper. The study reveals that 51% of UK consumers intend to read more news online in the future, up from 40% in 2019. However, print remains an important channel and for hard hit newspapers, 43% of UK respondents would be concerned if printed news were to disappear.
Consumers must be given the right to decide how they access news and information
Consumers are no longer picking up a newspaper on their daily commute, or holiday goers able to indulge in their favourite magazine mid-flight. Newsstands and freesheets have closed or lost their usual traffic. Facing this challenge, traditional news brands have successfully developed and improved their digital platforms and, for many, online has become the default reading option – although, not necessarily out of choice.
There may be a belief that the pandemic has resulted in everything going online, including work and education, but it’s worth remembering that 4.5 million adults in the UK have never used the internet (Office of National Statistics, 2018). It is the most vulnerable members of society that depend on traditional printed newspapers, magazines, books and bills and statements. The move to an online-only society risks leaving older people, the disabled, rural dwellers and those on low incomes disconnected.
Furthermore, moving online is not universally welcomed. 33% of all UK respondents and 54% of over 65-year-olds prefer to read their newspapers in print. 37% prefer to read magazines and 50% books in print. However, it is the younger generations who now opt for digital devices when they want to access news or pass the time with a book.
It cannot be denied that digital is having an impact on how we receive news and information but the growing dependence on digital brings its own challenges. Our survey reveals that getting away from digital devices is more important than ever. 45% of UK consumers are concerned about how digital devices may be damaging their health and 43% agree they spend too much time on their devices.
There are benefits to reading in print too. Reading in print allows us to process and comprehend the information we are reading better. 37% of UK people agree that they get a better understanding of a story when they read in print.
Print and digital are often compared in a bid to decide which is best. However, the debate shouldn’t centre around “print vs. digital”, as both channels are important and complement each other. Ultimately, consumers must be given the right to decide how they would like to access news and information; ensuring that consumer choice is maintained and those unwilling or unable to access digital information are not disadvantaged.
Considering our impact on the environment
Regardless of print or digital, there is one common factor at play that should be considered in either circumstance: The impact on our environment.
74% of UK consumers agree that it is important to use paper products from sustainably managed forests. They will be reassured to learn that paper is inherently sustainable. The raw material sourced to produce paper in Europe follows strict legal requirements, with 74% of wood and 90% of pulp purchased by the European pulp and paper industry being certified by accreditation schemes like FSC® and PEFC™ (Cepi, 2018). In fact, the area of European forests has been growing by over 1500 football pitches every day over the last 15 years (FAO, 2005 – 2020).
66% of consumers surveyed in the report think electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper communication. However, paper and print products are among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters at 0.8% whereas, the ICT industry accounts for 2.5-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions (Belkhir L & Elmeligi A, 2018).
The survey found that just 17% of UK consumers believe the paper recycling rate exceeds 60%. Furthermore, 46% believe that paper and paper packaging is wasteful. In reality, Europe’s paper recycling rate is currently 72%, with paper packaging even higher at 84% (Cepi, 2019).