Has digital distribution rejuvenated readership? Revisiting the age demographics of newspaper consumption
In this paper, Neil Thurman and Richard Fletcher examine the time spent with UK newspaper brands between 2000 and 2016. They show that the time spent with newspaper brands fell by 40 per cent, even as online platforms made access easier and cheaper, and that the decrease was greatest for the youngest age group.
Abstract: Newspapers’ democratic functions have not been fully assumed by the media capturing the revenues newspapers used to enjoy. It is, therefore, important to understand the determinants of newspaper use. Earlier studies found age to be the principal determinant, but did not account for newspapers’ online editions. This article investigates to what extent digital distribution has disrupted previously observed cohort effects, bringing younger audiences back to newspaper content. The annual time spent with UK newspapers by their younger, middle-aged, and older British audiences was calculated for 1999/2000—before, or just after, newspapers started to go online—and for 2016, when digital distribution had come of age. The results show (1) the time spent with newspaper brands fell by 40 per cent, even as online platforms made access easier and cheaper; (2) the proportional decrease in time spent was greatest for the youngest age group and smallest for the oldest; and (3) there are important variations between individual newspaper brands, a result, we propose, of differences in their multiplatform strategies. Digital distribution has, therefore, had little impact on previously observed cohort effects but has enabled changes in media use that have shaped the attention given to newspapers and will continue to do so.