We’re all creatures of habit … one more reason why newspaper audiences are slowly declining

Repetition of certain tasks, sooner or later turns into a habit.

For example, I buy my morning coffee from the same few providers based on the same set of criteria. If the first one I arrive at doesn’t have more than three people in the queue, I’ll buy it from there. If it does have a longer queue, I’ll move along to number two in the list. This happens without any conscious thought, and it is a part of my daily routine.

Before that purchase every day, I stand at the exact same place on the same station every day. I get off the train in the same place, and take the same journey through Clapham Junction to platform 12 where once again I take up a familiar position. Going back further still, I get out of bed, iron a shirt, go to the bathroom (always cleaning teeth first, and showering second) and then get dressed. It’s a habit. formed over time.

Advertising is often best designed to break habits that people currently have with competitor brands, while forming new ones with their own brand. So when people are talking about the decline in newspaper readership, and the rise and rise of readers online, surely the publishers themselves have to realise that they unwittingly played their part?

Back in the dot com boom of 2000 or thereabouts, I worked in media sales for a newspaper. We were crammed full of advertising that was designed to take readers from our newspaper, directly online to a plethora of different sites. There were pages and pages of advertising taken from new websites, all leading people from the offline world into a shiny new (ish) cyberspace. The revenue uplift in the short term was significant.

At the same time, our own editorial team were driving people online to read more, get more, and engage more. Over time, newspapers were showing people ‘another way’ to consume news … it was unwittingly helping readers break thier habits of reading a printed newspaper, that were formed over many years, by showing them a new way and slowly but surely people changed their habits.

The habit of reading a daily newspaper changed, over time, and they started reading the free online version.

Newspapers, in their short-term revenue-chasing funk, allowed an entirely new medium to arrive en-mass and take a huge proportion of space in their publications … all of which were designed to drive people away from the lucrative offline world, and into the online space. The most consistent, most repeated message throughout many newspapers every single day was online, online, online. Go online was the message from advertisers; go online also the vibe from editorial. Funnily enough, people started to go online.

The online world were collectively, and unwittingly acting like a parasite by attaching itself to press titles with such a force in the weight of advertising column inches, and sucking the readers out to cyberspace one by one. Advertising is often design to break habits, and the dot com boom did it in a big way. I seem to remember seeing stats at the time that proved that newspapers were the most effective medium at driving online audiences. Newspapers were justly proud of these stats, and used them to drive even more .com advertisers into their newspapers.

The online revolution would always have arrived. Newspapers certainly helped it along though, by giving online access to huge audiences.

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