Will newspapers still exist in Australia in 2022? This morning their demise may have been accelerated


While I don’t believe in predictions, I am in some quarters best-known for one of the only clear-cut predictions I have made, on the global timing of the extinction (or more precisely pending insignificance) of news-on-paper.

This morning’s news that the broadcaster Nine is “merging with” (essentially taking over) news publisher Fairfax to create Australia’s largest media company has sparked heated discussion on the future of the Australian media landscape.

Tim Burrowes, the publisher of media and marketing group Mumbrella, today re-published an article he wrote last week on how Fairfax had got things right, opening by referring to my forecasts:

One of Australia’s more influential futurists is Ross Dawson who famously (or perhaps infamously) created his Newspaper Extinction Timeline back in 2012.

And one of the risks of making future-gazing predictions is that eventually, the future happens. And at that point everybody remembers the prediction, and nobody remembers the caveats.

In 2018, the prediction that newspapers in the US would be extinct by 2017 looks a little awkward. Tell that to the New York Times. And the idea that they’d be irrelevant in the UK by next year seems increasingly unlikely.

And although it’s still four years away from his predicted newspaper extinction in Australia, it’s now fair to say it ain’t gonna happen here in 2022. And as a newspaper reader, nay lover, I couldn’t be happier.

I have already written an extensive Review of the Newspaper Extinction Timeline: What We Got Wrong and the Future of News from Here for those who want some context on the predictions and where we stand today.

In short, I acknowledged that I was wrong on the aggressive earlier dates on the Newspaper Extinction Timeline, but also noted that my dates for many other countries were very likely too far out, and I now expect a far swifter demise in many cases than I originally anticipated.

Which brings us to my forecast year of 2022 for news-on-paper to become insignificant or irrelevant in Australia.

The acquisition of Fairfax will, if anything, accelerate newspapers’ demise. There will be little sentiment on the history of newspapers in the combined organization.

Tim Burrowes noted that the market capitalization of Fairfax had increased to $1.85 billion last week, however that was no doubt significantly due to takeover speculation, and the value that can be extracted by breaking out the digital components of the company.

There is no question that Fairfax as a group has done better than some other legacy newspaper publishers around the world, mainly through its digital and other media acquisitions.

Yes 2022 may still be aggressive for newspapers to disappear from Australia. However I think there is a decent chance that there will be no or few daily newspapers by then, only weekend or community papers.

There might be value from publishing news-on-paper if it bolsters masthead brands. But if papers are loss-making, even with the help of shared printing with News Corp, that will be very difficult to sustain.

Tim is now on record saying “it’s now fair to say it ain’t gonna happen here in 2022”.

Let’s see. It’s certainly more likely as of this morning.

Image: Silke Remmery