May. 10, 2020


 Should we shout ‘Hooray!’ or be sad?

Some industries are suffering worse than others due to the lock down. Advertising is hard hit. Most businesses cut their marketing and advertising budgets, when the cost cutters take over from the growth junkies. Tourism, airlines, live entertainment, real estate and their supply industries are well publicized examples of those hard hit by the pandemic and panic. For them the question is whether the recently impoverished masses will want, or be able to afford, a return to past excesses. And how long that might take.
Pre pandemic, the newspaper industry was in steady decline. Press circulation in all major economies was falling, due to the availability of faster, and often free, on-line news. Much advertising migrated to the more fragmented on-line media, slashing an important revenue stream for the papers. The pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. Papers are reporting between 40% and 80% recent falls in advertising revenue. Their other major income stream was from sales at kiosks and other outlets. That has collapsed. Sales outlets are in lock down. There are fewer commuters. Many, who once enjoyed reading the news on the train or bus, are either working from home or unemployed. The home office has turbo-charged the computer skills of many former readers, speeding the domination of online sources.
So, we can feel sorry for the printers, news stand staff and professional journalists, in an already declining industry. They join the long list of those displaced by change, from coal miners to small farmers. They will have to adapt, reskill or face hardship. The virus has caused widespread hardship, especially for those at the bottom.
On the other hand, who owns the news industry? Ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of very wealthy and often ruthless media moguls, keen to manipulate public opinion. Sadly, they also control the on-line media. Maybe we will be no better off.
Trust in the veracity of newspapers is low in many countries. The plethora of competing on-line media increases opportunities for fake news and manipulation. It also allows for faster access to alternative views and information.
Let the reader beware!