Fewer Filipinos read the papers
By Patricia L. Adversario

Thursday, July 18, 2002

MORE Filipinos are losing the habit of reading newspapers and magazines. A recent survey showed an alarming trend of declining readership of newspapers and magazines from 1996-2002.

The shrinking numbers ought be a wake-up call for the print industry to take measures to arrest the decline in readership, and retain the interest of the few who still read, said Vivian Y. Tin, executive director of Nielsen Media Research, who released the survey results to The Manila Times.

The US-based Nielsen Media Research is part of the VNU Media Measurement and Information Group, a global provider of information services for the media and entertainment industries.

The decline in readership was seen across all economic classes with the largest drop in the AB group. From a high newspaper readership rate of 82.6 percent in 1997, it dipped to 59.7 percent in 2001.

The DE class, or the low income groups, which already have the lowest readership rate among the socio-economic classes, further dropped to a low 44.4 percent in 2001 from 60.4 percent in 1996.

Young people not reading

The decline in newspaper readership was evident across almost all the six age groups, except for one. More young people didn’t read the newspapers compared to those who did five years ago — only 20.3 percent among those aged 10-14 said they read yesterday’s +newspapers in 2001 compared to 53 percent who said the same in 1996.

The 20-29 age group posted the largest drop in newspaper readership in the last six years — only 46.4 percent kept the reading habit last year from 71.8 percent in 1996. Only the 40-49 age group sustained the habit, posting an increase in readership to 68 percent in 2001 from 59.3 percent in 1996.

The same decline was seen in the readership of weekly magazines. The number of readers who read a weekly magazine in the past week dropped from 35.6 percent to 14.2 percent from 1996-2001. The drop in readership was evident across all economic sectors with the most significant changes in the AB and DE classes.

The readership rate of weekly magazines for the AB class dropped to 26 percent in 2001 from 59.5 percent in 1996 while the DE class, which already posted a low 31.4 percent in 1996 slipped further to 8.7 percent in 2001.

Social impact

“There are serious implications if we turn out to be a nation of non-readers,” said Tin. “Introspection comes from reading. We need introspection to become better businessmen, better voters and better citizens.”

Monthly magazines even fared worse. Those who read a monthly magazine in the past month dropped to 8.8 percent in 2001 from 18.6 percent in 1996. Fewer Filipinos also said they read a monthly foreign magazine in the past month. The slippage was most apparent in the AB and C2 (lower middle) groups.

For the AB class, 15 percent said they read a monthly foreign magazine in 2001, down from 24 percent in the previous year; while the percentage of those who read a foreign magazine in the C2 class dropped to seven percent last year from 14 percent in 2000.

Even comics reading, which is said to be a popular pastime, was not spared. Those who read comics dropped to 19.4 percent in 2001 from a high 52.7 percent in 1999. There were even fewer comics readers from the low income DE group in 2001: readership dropped to 19.9 percent last year from 51.7 percent in 1996.

Comics reading among the young (aged 10-14 and 15-19) dropped during the six-year period in review. Fewer teenagers (aged 15-19) read comics — from 71.1 percent in 1996 to just 24.6 percent in 2001, and among those aged 10-14 from 69.1 percent in 1996 to 38.4 percent in 2001.

Print media in trouble

“Prospects for the print medium are dim,” said Tin. Apart from a declining readership, another Nielsen survey showed significant decreases in advertising spend and volume for the print medium from January to March this year.

During the period in review, the print medium saw “a serious decline” in both advertising volume and cost, the first time that print contracted in double digits on a quarterly basis.

Even as costs of print ads already dropped 23.7 percent in the first quarter this year from a previous 14-percent growth, the volume of print ads further shrank by 10 percent in the first quarter this year from a previous reduction of eight percent.

Limited advertising budget is shifting to television, which is perceived to be the more effective medium, said Tin. “If newspapers fail to address this contraction in the first quarter, print is going to see further serious contraction this year,” she added.

During times of crisis, spending for a newspaper might be one of the first things a consumer would have to forego. A study, conducted in April 2001, by the Asian Institute of Management found that about 20 percent of respondents from all income classes in Metro Manila stopped buying magazines and comics, although the figure was less for newspapers.

In Cebu, 40 percent of the DE class scrapped newspapers from their list of daily needs. In Davao, the figure was 25 percent.

Lack of interest

Tin, however, said the decline in readership is largely due to a lack of interest and not because the cost of a newspaper has become prohibitive in an economic crisis.

She pointed out that the Nielsen survey showed a steep drop in readership across all income classes and age groups.

“Newspapers have to invest in knowing and understanding their readers. They also have to make them interested in reading. When readership is high, advertising spend will increase. In other Asian countries, advertising spend in the print medium is high because their readership rate is high,” said Tin.

She also said the decline in advertising spend is not because there are now about 20 broad sheets and tabloids. “There are more radio stations and they still maintain their share of advertising,” she pointed out.

Unlike print, radio did not see any serious contraction last year. While the number of advertising spots for radio dropped slightly to 0.5 percent last year, costs rose 20 percent to P13 billion.

The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews in October and November last year. A total of 1000 males and females aged 10 and above from all socio-economic groups were interviewed.

Nielsen Media Research is a global provider of media research and analysis. It provides TV and radio audience measurement, advertising information services, print readership and customized media research services to 40 markets, including the Philippines.