‘Year of elections’ could lift news publishers – even if print ads are not the next gin

Heightened political climate should push people back to trusted content as long as publishers ‘stand up and own’ the space

22/05/2015 - NEWS  - Voters voting in the marriage referendum and the Age of Presidential Candidates referendum at St. Andrews Rescource Centre, Pearse street in Dublin.
Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

In a pessimism-reaffirming turn of events, newspaper advertisements have been removed from the basket of goods and services that the Central Statistics Office uses to track inflation – a fate that has not traditionally been a precursor to an era of stunning popularity.

True, it is possible for an item to fall out of fashion and then make a spectacular return to the consumer price index (CPI) basket some years or decades later, but mainly only if that item is gin.

After 23 years in the wilderness, gin in all its multi-hued glory has slipped back in between the wires of the CPI basket just as the spirit’s latest boom appears to have passed its peak.

Newspaper advertisements have gone in the other direction, ejected from the “other services” corner of the basket where they once resided alongside such lifetime perennials as “funeral services” and “passport fees” – two known triggers for the consumption of gin.


This dumping, like most of them, has a feel of permanency about it. The latest estimates and forecasts on newspaper advertising in the Irish market, combined with everything we know about consumer reading habits, confirm the structural decline of print.

Print news media advertising plunged 11.7 per cent to €75 million in 2023, according to marketing group Core, down from €84.9 million the year before. Core forecasts that it will plummet at the even starker rate of 13.1 per cent this year, taking the industry total down to €65.2 million.

News publishers’ digital advertising revenues are growing, but not enough to make a difference. Core predicts that after rising from €27.9 million to €29.4 million last year, a modest climb of 5.4 per cent, they will expand 7.1 per cent to €31.5 million in 2024.

If its estimates hold firm, it will mean just a €3.6 million rise in digital advertising for publishers over a two-year period in which print news advertising revenues across the Irish market have fallen €19.7 million.

What’s more, Core expects that the combined print and digital advertising revenues news publishers will earn this year will drop below the €100 million mark to €96.7 million. This forecasted total is lower than the revenues the industry is thought to have pulled in during crisis-stricken 2020, the year of the great marketing pause.

It’s even more instructive to look back over longer time frames to see what has happened to the status of print. Figures from media agency owner GroupM suggest that newspapers attracted more than a fifth of Irish advertising revenues as recently as 2015, but that this market share will arrive at just 6.6 per cent this year and will continue to whittle down, sinking to 5.3 per cent in 2028.

Inevitably, this places immense pressure on news publishers to accelerate the subscription side of their business, assuming they have one.

The broader issue of Government and State agency advertising is, of course, a sensitive one, for in theory fluctuations in spend could be misused as hidden leverage – a potential backdoor route to influence – and, for now, the distribution of such revenue is massively opaque

So, where’s the good news? It could, unlikely as this might sound, be knocking around the polling station. A news media industry that operates free of government interference is both an essential component of democracy and a beneficiary of that democracy and its processes. In short, mass trips to the ballot box can be useful for business.

Globally, the electorate in more than 60 countries, representing more than half the world’s population, are set to cast some sort of vote this year. Here, the general election doesn’t have to be until the first quarter of 2025, but the local and European elections will definitely be June. Throw in the two referendums on March 8th, and it’s all fun times for poster printers, schoolchildren who fancy a day off and, yes, much of the media.

That’s because even if these events fail to drive audience levels beyond the odd temporary boost here or there, the heightened political climate could serve to remind advertisers that news publishers offer a better-quality environment for their messages than toxic, idiocy rewarding and/or bot-ridden social media platforms.

“I think this is a chance for print media, and all news media, to maybe stand up and own this [election] space,” Colm Sherwin, Core’s chief digital and investment officer, told RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland.

Core’s Outlook 2024 report concludes that tech companies are “losing the battle when it comes to both misinformation and disinformation”. Algorithms prioritising views over verified information could wind up pushing people to more trusted content – and that, as the Reuters Institute’s annual Digital News Report shows, means the news industry.

“This is something we would certainly promote in Core to advertisers,” said Sherwin.

And then there’s the drip-feed of revenue from public information campaigns courtesy of the Electoral Commission, which news industry bodies Newsbrands Ireland and Local Ireland watch closely. When the commission initially excluded local newspapers from one campaign last year, the matter was raised at an Oireachtas committee, prompting chief executive Art O’Leary to respond that members could be “reassured that local media will play a very important part for us”.

The broader issue of Government and State agency advertising is, of course, a sensitive one, for in theory fluctuations in spend could be misused as hidden leverage – a potential backdoor route to influence – and, for now, the distribution of such revenue is massively opaque. As was noted at last week’s launch of the Media Ownership Monitor Ireland website, there are no rules about and little data on where Government advertising money goes.

That should change eventually when the European Union’s European Media Freedom Act is enacted and transposed into Irish law, ushering in a “transparent and non-discriminatory” regime for the allocation of State advertising revenue – then, at least, news industry groups will be able to see exactly how much of the money is going elsewhere.

Newspapers themselves, meanwhile, remain in the CPI basket. Phew, etc. Speaking of triggers for the consumption of gin, the television licence fee is still in there too.