But print newspapers still dominant despite high Internet penetration rate.
Circulation: A newspaper’s circulation refers to the number of newspapers that are distributed each day.
Readership/reach: Readership figures, which are usually higher than circulation, measures how many individuals read a newspaper, either on a daily or weekly basis.
“I prefer print newspapers because all the news is already presented there already, I don’t need to look for them elsewhere. Anyway, looking at the computer screen for too long is a bit tiring also. But since the hall I stay in has no newspaper, so I’ll read online.” — Mr Martin Koh, 24, engineering student at NTU
“Reading news online is more convenient for me because I’m online everyday, so I can open a new tab on my browser and visit the Channel NewsAsia website to read. With the actual hard copy, I actually have to spend time to find out which page to flip to.” — Ms Tan Xiangwei, 20, marketing assistant
HERE’S a story you won’t see on the pages of The Straits Times: Singapore’s flagship paper has been on slow decline in reach and circulation over the past decade.
While the paper engages in an annual exercise of using the Nielsen Media Index to boast about its fantastic readership figures (typical marketing spiel, no doubt), a deeper analysis gives a more nuanced picture.
From 2002 to 2010, Straits Times’ daily reach among Singaporeans over 15 has dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent, according to the Index conducted through the years.
Circulation figures, revealed in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH is Straits Times’ parent company) annual reports, also showed a decline from 390,363 at the turn of the millennium to 365,800 this year – hardly flattering.
But no doomsday scenario is forthcoming. Journalists in the mainstream papers more or less have secure jobs, unless they mess up big time or piss off some big shots in government. Nice bonuses seem to be on the cards for them too, judging by the healthy economy.
While a smaller proportion of Singaporeans are reading the printed copy of the Straits Times, raw readership figures have held steady. The Index reported that daily readership has ballooned from 1.32 million five years ago to about 1.4 million in 2009.
“…it tells you about their priorities. Condo – important. Information? Well, if it defaces my condo marble, I’ll say no.” – Ang Peng Hwa
This phenomena of falling circulation and reach versus rising raw readership can be explained by population growth. The daily paper might have seen more readers, but the growth is not bigger than the change in population.
Despite the apparent stagnation in print readership, the latest Index revealed that only 27 percent of Singaporeans read online news daily. This is a paradox considering how wired, or wi-fied, Singaporeans are.
Some observers have noted a lack of online publications that does thorough news coverage as a reason why readers are not flocking online. But this does not account for the fact that even mainstream media websites are struggling to capture eyeballs on the Internet.
The Straits Times website, for example, only received visits from 4.3 percent of Singaporeans last year.
Comparing apples with apples, general Internet use in Singapore pales in comparison to other wealthy countries like South Korea and Japan, said Professor Ang Peng Hwa of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University.
He cited the statistic that nine out of ten condominiums were more concerned about the appearance of the residences than getting the Next Generation National Broadband Network.
“So it tells you about their priorities. Condo – important. Information? Well, if it defaces my condo marble, I’ll say no. So I’m a little bit puzzled by the high percentage of people rejecting that,” he added.
Ang noted, however, that no study has been done on this phenomena locally. But he highlighted some general trends.
“Broadly speaking, high Internet use in a society is linked with strong civil liberties or how much people trust one another,” he said.
Culture also has a major influence. South Koreans, for example, have a tendency to help one another on the Internet. That trait probably contributed to the success of OhMyNews, a citizen journalism website where readers double as reporters, often without monetary reward.
For now, it seems that the newspaper industry in Singapore is still healthy. Today newspaper, a daily tabloid run my MediaCorp, has seen rising readership and reach over the past few years, although it is still nowhere near the level of The Straits Times.
And while other SPH papers like The New Paper and Lianhe Zaobao are losing ground, new bilingual publication Mypaper is picking up the slack, registering strong growth.
Overall, daily English newspaper readership has held steady at about 50 percent over the past decade, although daily newspaper readership as a whole has declined 15 percent, from 87 percent in 2002 to 73 percent now.
Could all this change with the introduction of tablets like the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab? Each of them have sold over one million units globally within the first month of their respective launches, signalling the arrival of the next computing revolution.
If Singaporeans pick up the habit of reading news on these devices, then perhaps we can finally witness a shakeup in the newspaper industry over the next few years.