Reading between the lines

Thursday, 31 August 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka has joined India as one of the few countries in the world where newspaper circulation is growing and continues to be a strong source of political and economic engagement. Causes of this sustained demand and what it says of Sri Lanka’s consumption patterns would be a worthy read. 

According to provisional data in the latest edition of Central Bank’s Economic and Social Statistics publication, 538.82 million newspaper copies were sold in 2016, up from 508.08 million copies in 2015.This is a trend which is going against the global flow, since newspaper circulation in many countries have fallen significantly, as consumers have switched towards alternates such as websites, social media, news apps and digital television, which can provide information faster, right to one’s fingertips.

According to the Central Bank data, the daily newspaper circulation on an annual basis for 2016 had reached up to 411.76 million, from 383.13 million in 2015. Daily, 62 newspaper copies were circulating among each 1,000 persons, up from 58 copies per 1,000 persons’ year-on-year (YoY).

The largest circulation boost was seen through Sinhala daily newspapers, which saw 259 million copies in circulation on an annual basis, up from 226.49 million copies in circulation YoY. The figure for English daily newspapers increased to 91.8 million from 80.73 million YoY. But annual circulation numbers for Tamil daily newspapers meanwhile fell to 60.97 million in 2016 from 75.91 million YoY.

Reasons for this increase have not been explored in the study. Across the Palk Strait the increase has been attributed to stronger presence of local language newspapers as well as economic growth driving businesses to invest more in advertising. In Sri Lanka national newspapers remain strong with regional editions rather than separate regional newspapers. However, both populations are strongly politically engaged and this could also be a reason why newspapers have managed to stay ahead of the competition. Even though many people take to social media to express their opinions, credible information is still largely disseminated by traditional media.

Readers are creatures of habit. As an aging population Sri Lanka’s economically powerful tend to be slightly longer in the tooth and advertising companies are aware of this situation. Advertising decisions in companies may also be made by senior officials with conservative views who might feel developing content specifically for social media or having social media as their primary advertising portal is still premature in Sri Lanka’s market. Social media continues to be only a component of most advertising campaigns and while this may change in the long run alternative media platforms have struggled to find adequate advertising to really muscle in on space occupied by newspapers. 

Unlike in the olden days readers are no longer passive receivers of information, they have ideas, views, and opinions. Often readers look for a newspaper that reflects their personal preference making the task of a newspaper harder because it has to cater to a certain world view rather than simply conveying information. In a market rapidly growing in sophistication journalists, editors and newspaper owners have to understand this changing dynamic to ensure their relationship with their readers grows. Evolving this process would be as the core of keeping newspaper growth alive.