Everything Old and the New As Well
USE. New media appear but the old remain. This is what’s been said since the breakthrough of television in the 1950s. It still applies. The big difference now is that new media undermine the economic basis of the old media. The average Swede spends plenty of time online but it’s still the traditional media that dominate when it comes to news and current events. Generational differences are significant. The Internet is changing the Swedish media society. The changes are even more tangible in the USA.
Much points toward a socially and culturally stratified media society. A global, English-language public arena is taking shape. This can facilitate democracy on a national level but it demands national broad media that connects the global availability of qualified knowledge with the national public.
Mediebarometern, Nordicom, Mediesverige 2010, Olle Findahl, Svenskarna och internet 2009, Pew Research Center, Fox News, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, World Internet Institute, Unga svenskar och internet 2009, Nick Bilton, Veckans Affärer, Fokus, Härliga hund, Ny Teknik
When we wrote earlier about media development in both the European and American debate, we’ve meant the term to include newspaper circulation figures, television viewer and radio listener figures, and even books, journals and other media that we don’t necessarily use everyday. In today’s media society, these continue to represent a large portion of media consumption but the mass market for audio, images and text on that which is usually referred to as “new platforms” is growing rapidly.
Looking at the entire media sphere, we realize that there is simply so much more out there—games, social services, e-mail, etc—than the traditional media content. The most established description of media use in Sweden is presented by Mediebarometern (pdf, in Swedish) (Media Barometer) that is compiled yearly by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg.
Nordicom also tracks running figures.
In Mediasverige 2010, Bergström, Sternvik and Wadbring present a more detailed account of newspaper reading according to generations:
Based on Swedish Radio’s own research, media use tends to be generation-dependent or, in other words, not age-dependent.
Previously, the assumption was that as a person ages, they adopt more “grown up” behaviors regarding media use. One begins reading and subscribing to a morning paper around the age of 30, and one begins listening to editorial radio as one begins to seriously interact and establish oneself within society. Probably, this is a myth.
Most information suggests that we stick to the pattern of our generation. That means that newspaper reading will continue to decrease with the consequences that it brings for circulation and advertising revenues. It also means that particularly radio listening time will decrease.
Today, Swedish Radio has nearly seven million weekly listeners. While it is certainly unfortunate if we end up reaching fewer listeners, considering our current number of listeners, it won’t be a catastrophe. The situation is worse for those media whose revenues are directly connected with use and already have small margins. There is a huge risk for a negative circulation spiral.
Naturally, the biggest change during the period 1990-2009 was the breakthrough of Internet. This is reflected in the large generational differences seen in media use. At the same time, the category “Internet” includes everything from newspaper reading and radio listening via Internet to mail exchange within a family.
Gross figures for Internet use don’t tell us anything about the division of use between social media and traditional media on the net. More specific figures are available for Sweden in the report Swedes and Internet 2009(Svenskarna och internet 2009) by Olle Findahl, Professor in Media and Communication Science.
In order to deduce anything about the changes in the media society incurred as a result of the advent of Internet, one must first understand what needs the choice of media or the use are intended to fulfill.
In Swedes and the Internet 2009, actual Internet use is described:
“Aside from email, news and newspaper reading, it is the practical use that stands in the foreground when one goes online. The vast majority of all users use the Internet to check time schedules, gather product information, check facts, obtain information on travel, pay bills, make purchases, buy tickets, look up words, etc /…/
That which /…/ dominates everyday use is communication with others via email and instant messaging for the younger. It’s the news and newspaper reading online. /…/ And there is surfing and everything that pertains to one’s hobbies and special interests. But one also uses Internet everyday as a fact resource for time schedules, facts, language, maps, etc. /…/
If we compare with how Internet was used two years ago, certain changes have occurred. More and more are discovering the practical help that is available on the Internet for checking facts and looking up words; it’s also easy these days to find maps and directions. There are also more and more users who use Internet as a source of entertainment by listening and downloading music and viewing and downloading video. There are also more who have tried watching television on the Internet.
Further, the proportion of users who read blogs has increased and, above all else, there are many more users today compared to 2007 that visit different web communities. Those seeking sexual content on the web have also increased. Whether this is due to a true change in behavior or simply reflects a more open attitude toward talking about it, it’s difficult to judge.”
Access to Internet via cell phones is still relatively new. Easy to use cell phone apps will more than likely influence the willingness to use the web among the big group of non-users. Olle Findahl writes in his report on Swedes and Internet:
“ In contrast with Japan, the cell phone has not yet become a natural entryway to the Internet. Almost everyone has a cell phone, with most having the option of Internet access but only 2 out of 10 (18%) utilize this possibility. That’s approximately the same proportion as it was two years ago. Here it isn’t adolescents who are the driving force but younger age and middle-aged men, 26-45 years, who are the most devoted users. Many of these are likely to have their net provider paid by their employer. /…/ Of those 18% of cell phone users who use mobile Internet, only two out of ten do so daily, four of ten do so once or a few times a week, and the remaining four do so even more seldom.”
Only three percent of cell phone users, then, regularly access Internet via their cell phone. The area of use is so new, and the pattern of use is so widely scattered in this small group, that it is difficult to make any substantial conclusions about the future. As with Internet use in general, there are clear differences between men and women. Women communicate, men consume.
Olle Findahl points out that despite the high numbers reflecting access to Internet, there are large segments of the population that are still not connected and most users do not exploit Internet’s possibilities to the fullest.
Findahl summarizes Internet’s meaning from a media perspective:
- The daily use of Internet as a platform for other media is little. It is mostly newspapers being read on the net; eight of ten have read a newspaper via the net sometime, one of three read a newspaper on the net daily. Use of the net for other “indirect” media consumption is increasing but remains small.
- Internet is a complementary information source. The positioning of traditional media hasn’t changed much. Internet has become a complementary and partially equivalent medium but it hasn’t replaced newspapers, radio and television. Generational differences exist. For the young, the net is more important.
- Internet hasn’t increased political contacts. Internet creates new contact possibilities in people’s daily lives, but it doesn’t increase political contacts. If anything, these are decreasing although not because of Internet but for other reasons. Less than ten percent of the population admits to regularly using Internet to gain political information.
Findahl discerns three groups from among those in Sweden who do not use Internet. There are just over one million who have never used Internet, 300 000 have used Internet but have stopped, and 300 000 have access to Internet but don’t use it.
Almost one quarter of Swedish adults live “outside the Internet world”. Important determining factors are income and educational level. This does not apply to the young, however. When those who have never used Internet are asked their reasons for abstaining, the most common response is that they quite simply aren’t interested in the new technology and that they don’t consider themselves in need of using it.
The report states: “There was no benefit that would compensate for the cost and trouble an Internet connection would entail. Similar results have been found in research from other countries.”
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, more commonly referred to as simply Pew, has completed a study about where people in the USA get their news information. The figures concern the USA but the picture is likely applicable to developed information societies in general. Without exaggerating, the results are fascinating.
The question that was posed was where did the respondent get their news “yesterday”? The Internet, together with the radio, is the second largest news source in the USA.
The daily newspaper as a news source has decreased by half over the last 20 years, dropping from 56 percent to 31 percent of respondents who get their news updates from the daily newspaper. Television is still big although it has lost some of its news dominance—58 percent of respondents got their news updates from television rather the 68 percent who did so 20 years ago. But that television remains the big news source is really only a half truth—television today and television yesterday are two essentially different things in the USA.
By far the biggest is the very clearly right-wing Murdoch-owned cable television channel Fox News, a channel followed by one out of four Americans. CNN viewers are dropping sharply. The traditional channels ABC, NBC, and CBS have clearly left their futures behind.
Talk radio is big. Interestingly, according to Pew, 11 percent of the American public gets its news updates from NPR (National Public Radio), the closest American equivalent to Swedish Radio P1.
NPR has 268 member stations broadcasting on more than 750 radio stations across America. Nearly half the American population gets news from the Internet at least three days per week. The largest news source is Yahoo! followed by three other net services: CNN, Google and MSN. The New York Times occupies ninth place and reaches 7 percent of the American population with its very ambitious Internet edition.
The Young and the Internet
Findahls report doesn’t include the Internet habits of the very youngest in Sweden. However, the institute for which he works, World Internet Institute, has compiled a report Young Swedes and Internet 2009 (Unga svenskar och internet 2009).
Almost the only factual point of reference that exists for evaluating tomorrow’s media use are those patterns that can be discerned among the really young.
Those born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s have grown up with cell phones, video games and computers. Those that have been born the last ten years (2000s) grow up with and on the Internet. The “older” young people are often referred to as “digital natives” while those who are now ten years and younger are sometimes referred to as “the digital indigenous” to indicate that entirely new habits can emerge among the youngest.
The report from World Internet Institute divides children’s Internet use into a number of phases in which different habits are gradually assumed. Pre-school children as young as three years old can find their way to the Internet. There they find pages on which they can draw, figures to color, animals to look at and simple games to play.
Those who have advanced to school age have learned how to send emails and use Google and they progress through their early grade school years downloading music and films, chatting and reading online. During the later grade school years and early teenage years, they are seasoned Internet users, belong to online communities, communicate online, consume music using online music services such as Spotify and easily learn to use new apps.
During 2009-2010, Swedish Radio completed our own study—Future Investigation (Framtidsutredningen)—that touches on conditions for future media use.
The study leader, Hanne Stjärne, writes:
“Within the younger group, there’s a line of division. Those born in the 1990s and 2000s have grown up in a digital world; those who are older have grown into it (even if it was during their younger years).
In ten years, those born in the 1990s will near their 30th year, they will have entered the work world and begun to build families. When one compares those born in the 1990s with other groups, one sees among other things, significantly greater use of the web. A 17-year old uses the Internet on the average almost twice as much as an adult. These young people have also grown up with online social networks and turn to traditional media only marginally when online. Among those aged 9-14, for example, only 5 percent turn to traditional media while 44 percent use social media. Competition within audio is increasing in the younger age groups. Their collective listening is increasing but it is above all music listening that is developing while total radio listening is dropping.
In Sweden, 60 percent of those between the ages of 9-19 use music services such as Spotify and others during an average week. In the USA, two-thirds of all listening occurs on platforms that barely existed ten years earlier, such as iPod/mp3, cell phones and computer, according to a study of adolescents from Kaiser Family Foundation 2010. The strongest traditional media in the younger group is television, both in on-demand form and as the dominating passive medium. The medium dropping off the fastest is printed newspapers. In the USA, reading printed newspapers has dropped by 50% during the last ten years among those aged 8-18.
Among those born in the 2000s, development is even further accentuated. Generally speaking, all families with small children in Sweden have broadband, and Internet use travels rapidly to the younger ages. Today, every fifth 3-year old and 50 percent of all 5-year olds in Sweden have used Internet. A quarter of all 7-year olds have access to their own computer and this increases to 70 percent among 14-year olds. Cell phone use begins somewhat later but then it increases even more rapidly. Twenty percent of 7-year olds have their own cell phone and 98 percent of 14-year olds.
Total media consumption among the young (ages 15-25) continues to be higher than for other age groups (along with retired persons, they’re at the top). Consumption is increasing both in measures of time spent and as a consequence of parallel consumption. Media use differs some along lines of gender as well. For example, teenage girls are driving development of cell phone services in Japan and every fifth 20-year old Swedish girl has her own blog. Among teenage boys, games play a bigger role.”
During the last 15 years, publications on “new platforms”—the web and later, cell phones—has been one of the strategic questions on the large media companies’ agendas. In most cases, the answer has been that content that previously was only published in the printed newspapers or, as in the case of Swedish Radio, in the analog radio broadcasts on FM, must also be made available on the web and cell phone. Interestingly, these decisions have seldom been supported by proper analyses of market and scope nor tested against any thorough business model—they have been á priori decisions. If one isn’t present on the net, one doesn’t exist, or at any rate won’t exist in the future.
Now, of course, it isn’t the case that we lack all knowledge about the scope of digital platforms. Findahl’s overall figures and assessments, reproduced here, apply also to Swedish Radio. We also know a good deal about the specific use of Swedish Radio. We have nearly one million unique visitors to our website weekly and we know that it is younger listeners/users on the website than on FM.
We know that the number of listeners that we reach via smart phones is increasing substantially.
Books and Journals—Internet’s Winners?
Book publishing and distributionis changing due to Internet’s impact at least as much as the newspaper branch and radio. We know that book sales are increasing: Sweden, with a population of 9 million currently sells about 80 million books annually. We know also that book reading in Sweden and in other comparable nations remains at a high but principally unchanged level. We know that book sales have shifted from bookstores to book clubs, supermarkets and Internet.
We know that the e-reader is making its breakthrough. We know that although the bestselling books are selling even better than previously, it is at the same time easier now to access those books that are more narrow in focus and less in demand.
But we know very little about the actual genre shifts occurring within reading. Sweden is the Promised Land of thrillers and cookbooks. Does that mean fiction reading has decreased dramatically? Does it mean that the cultural nation of Sweden is being reduced to a nation of hardboiled thriller enthusiasts and soft-boiled cookbook hedonists? It could very well be a reasonable assumption. But we don’t know.
We also don’t know what the new technology means for “the book”. Nick Bilton’s book, I Live in the Future and Here’s how it Works , shows what possibilities the new technology offers. The same applies to this web book, Journalism 3.0. The future’s book will be as yesterday’s book. But the future’s book can also be something very different.
Prestigious journals that are so important in the public debate, such as those found in the USA, Great Britain and France, barely exist in a language area as small as Sweden. Veckan’s Affärer’s (The Week’s Business) circulation doesn’t even reach 30 000 and Affärsvärlden (Business World) lies a good bit under 20 000. Fokus (Focus), actually the only Swedish political magazine of international quality, has a total circulation of 30 500, about 300 copies less than the magazine Härliga Hund (Lovely Dog).
Of all Fokus subscriptions, only 2 500 are full paying compared with Härliga Hund’s 9400. Fokus has so far not shown a profit in any given year.
As these figures show, it’s almost meaningless to discuss the category of periodicals. It includes everything from the most speculative and thoroughly commercial weekly magazines to the very heaviest publications in Sweden. However, the category’s very breadth makes it interesting from another perspective.
A number of journals live on the market; they are totally dependent on circulation and advertising revenues. But most journals are financed in a completely different way. There are member journals such as Nyteknik (New Technology) that goes out to all members of the union organization Sveriges Ingenjörer (Sweden’s Engineers) but at the same time is an important societal arena for news and debate on technological development.
There is the large group of periodicals that are published by non-profit initiatives, with great efforts by low-paid workers or volunteers. This applies not least to cultural magazines that, in most cases, exist thanks to the publisher’s and co-worker’s enthusiasm and commitment. From a magazine- and journal-reading point of view, their existence is negligible. But wide consensus reigns on their meaningfulness for a vital cultural life, they offer depth and creativity. Their influence is also—and not least—indirect since their readers are represented among the culture editors of the big media in newspapers, radio and television, where their content is reviewed and topics are introduced that these journals were the first to bring up.
Elite Markets vs Mass Markets
The cultural periodicals are illustrative of an obvious but rarely discussed phenomenon pertaining to Swedish democracy and its public arena, namely the relationship between, on the one hand, opinion making by the narrow elite and on the other hand, opinion making as expressed in mainstream media. The culture debate is dependent on the interplay between the narrow opinion-building elite and the big media—newspapers, radio and television—where the latter introduce subjects addressed in the journals and instigate discussion and debate to more participants, and present more perspectives. Without this vitalizing interplay, the general discussion becomes stale and shows signs of hypoxia. For the cultural periodicals, the loss of this attention by the big media means that the “democratic ecology” to which they owe their continued existence, ceases to exist.
Solely quantitative descriptions of media use clearly capture merely one aspect of media’s significance. If we are to understand the media structure’s significance for democracy, a qualitative understanding of media’s, and of different media’s, roles is needed.
We know that a dramatic shift in media use is underway. We know that the Internet and cell phone play key roles. Practically speaking, we know very little of what lies behind the numbers that reflect this dramatic shift. Does traditional media’s loss to the Internet denote a powerful increase in people’s participation in important processes in society? Or is it that the increase in the diversity of media and the Internet’s potential in practice involves a dramatic increase of pure entertainment consumption and that the daily conversation between people is moving to a significant extent to the net?
A not too bold assumption about the future of media is that it will continue to be difficult to extract payment for general content but easy to get payment for specialized content. The general newspaper would thus have to continue to wrestle with how product and business model should adapt to entirely new conditions. In the larger language areas, important segments of the magazine market should go toward a fairly bright future.
Much suggests that the Internet contributes toward creating a more integrated global and English-language public arena. It will be a public arena with access for practically all who master the language.
In practice, however, it will become a community of elites. It could also be described as an “open” arena for elites. Quality knowledge is easily accessible for those who in fact seek it. Of course this means a qualitative change in our democratic society: a national, broad media public is replaced with global and narrower Internet publics.
It’s not obvious that such a qualitative change in the media society weakens democracy. But a condition is that national democracy has its platforms. An open global net doesn’t replace national media that reaches many.
Democracy doesn’t live on formalities alone. It causes quite a stir when democracy’s formal rules change. A thorough change of the public arena where democracy really resides risks going by unnoticed.