Transition never ends in social life and the 'End of History' proclamation by a Westerner is just lost in itself! The same applies to modern-day journalism when some pundits, overwhelmed by faster communications technology, forecast a death scenario for newspapers.
The century-old newspaper revenue model based on advertisement boom is failing to some extent but not the concept of the print media. The 'decline' is commonly attributed to diversion of readership to the social media, more than the crisis within the fourth estate. Disillusionment of some readers about media reporting may not be dismissed as one of the reasons for circulation slump of hard copies.
There is little difference in Bangladesh's newspaper industry, which, almost everyone would say, is experiencing a crisis of readership and advertising revenue, aggravated by new constraints of becoming adequately vocal. Some regret loss of perceived influence of the media on public life. Others finish duties by blaming ads' fatigue and growth of the new media. Only soul-searching efforts through research project are yet to be undertaken in our context.
Correlation between readers' ownership of the media and income of each newspaper organisation and changes has not been properly identified in Bangladesh. The mantra followed is: 'the higher the circulation, the more the earning' or that 'the lower the cost the higher the profitability'.
The free press though depends on twin pillars of functional democracy and free market economy but the masses - the vast majority of readers - have found themselves at a distance from day-to-day exercise of most publications. These readers were, however, given concession for subscribing to newspapers, since advertising revenue contributed to loss-financing or profit-making (difference between production cost and selling price).
Once flocks of readers turn away their faces from a newspaper, its flow of advertisements has started dwindling. The majority of today's readers have gone to the online media but ads have not followed them immediately.
Also the 'restless' social media users seeking breaking news and updates of rumours come back to the print media, or at least the online platform of the legacy media, for authenticity of hearsays as well as for in-depth reports, soothing features, serious analyses and unique articles. Neither technology nor shifting revenue composition reduces the relevance of journalism of high quality maintaining integrity.
The process of desertion and return of the newspaper readers signifies the value of quality journalistic content. Once again, these readers share cost of print copies only partly and almost nothing for online content. They access The New York Times and The Economist, for instance, by spending from their own pocket and volunteer to donate for visiting The Guardian website.
Then, are the readers ready to bear cost of content generated by a Bangladeshi media entity?
Theoretically, they are supposed to offer money to producers, the media organisations, for consuming content. Unless they do so, the media houses will not sustain in the long run and if a few survive and thrive, their content will not be accessible for readers without paying full fees, be it enforced by a paywall or increase in price of printed newspaper.
"Quality news has never been in more demand than today," observes 'World Press Trends 2019' report as a more than 200 per cent growth in digital news subscribers was recorded over five years. The print still accounts for more than 80 per cent of newspaper revenue worldwide.
The Bangladeshi newspapers, challenged by revenue shortfall, may have to think about raising funds from readers to serve them. They have to come up with an answer to why readers will keep a budget, for purchasing information that has to be considered necessary.
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