TORONTO - Despite the persistent doom and gloom that plagues the newspaper industry, a research group insists that readership numbers really aren't that bad in Canada.
According to surveys conducted by NADbank (the Newspaper Audience Databank), nearly 80 per cent of Canadians said they pick up a physical newspaper or visit a paper's website at least once a week and almost half said they do so daily.
Anne Crassweller, president of NADbank, concedes that newspaper readership is down, because while the numbers are up a bit they're not keeping up with population growth.
Still, the figures suggest Canadian readers aren't losing interest in the work newspapers do, she said.
"The reason print does so well in Canada unlike other countries — because that's where all the rhetoric comes from, in the U.S. they have huge problems down there — it's because the free dailies have been so successful here at entrenching themselves into the marketplace, they have a solid base of readership," she said.
"The research has shown, for a number of years, that people actually are reading newspapers but the news in the media is that they're not."
People are also surprised to learn that print newspapers are still read more than papers' websites, Crassweller added.
"Of all the people that read newspaper (articles) every week 57 per cent of them, millions of Canadians, only read a printed newspaper. They don't read a digital copy — people are just blown away by that," she said, adding that 34 per cent said they read print and online, while nine per cent said they read newspaper websites only.
Reading newspaper articles on mobile devices is spiking in popularity, particularly with young people.
About 60 per cent of the online readers between 18 and 34 said they now use a smartphone or tablet to access newspaper stories, while just over half of that group said they only use their mobile devices to read the news online.
"The youth are naturally going to gravitate to those sources for their news but it is quite a stunning change over time," said Crassweller, who noted that in 2010 only three per cent of the online news readers between 18 and 34 were using mobile devices exclusively.
Newspaper readership numbers may seem rosy but they don't account for the fact that untold numbers of Canadians aren't paying to read the news, whether they're picking up a freebie daily or getting their headlines via social media links, said John Miller, professor emeritus of journalism at Toronto's Ryerson University.
On Thursday, Postmedia Network Canada Corp. (TSX:PNC.B), which owns newspapers including the National Post, Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen, reported a loss of $35.8 million in the fourth quarter, compared to $28.4 million a year earlier. Print circulation revenues decreased by $1.9 million or 3.6 per cent.
"If the new business model for newspapers is to make people pay to subscribe online it's going to be a hard slog because we don't know whether there's enough people (paying) to make that work and we don't know how they access things online," Miller said.
"If things are this healthy, if eight in 10 Canadians are reading (newspapers) every week, why are they laying off people?"