Samuel Negredo, Alfonso Vara, and Avelino Amoedo
Centre for Internet Studies and Digital Life, University of Navarra
Struggling newspapers face increased competition online from broadcasters and a handful of thriving pure players. Publishers are joining forces to create greater commercial scale.
Newspaper circulation continued to decline last year by almost 10% with daily copies dipping below 2 million – less than half the number sold just a decade ago. The leading titles, El País (-14%), El Mundo (-18.5%), and ABC (-14%), suffered the sharpest year-on-year declines in newsstand sales,1 and for the first time in almost six decades, no single newspaper sold more than 200,000 daily copies overall, according to OJD, the Spanish Audit Bureau of Circulation.
El País, El Mundo, and the freesheet 20 minutos continue to be the most popular newspapers online. El País reshaped its newsroom into a more ‘reader-focused’ one, with increased use of analytics to guide the editorial agenda. It releases content online in three day-parts (at 8am, 2pm, and 8pm).2
Urbano Cairo became the CEO and chairman of RCS, the Italian media group that owns El Mundo as well as Marca and Expansión, the leading sport and business papers. In 2016 20 minutos redesigned its print editions, which attract a weekday circulation of 300,000 in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Andalusia. Pedro García Cuartango was appointed editor of El Mundo after David Jiménez’s one-year stint. Their predecessor, Casimiro García-Abadillo, led the biggest launch of a digital-native news site in Spain in 2016, El Independiente, with a capital of €2.25m.
Digital-native sites continue to thrive in Spain, and reach a bigger mainstream audience than in most other countries. The most successful are El Confidencial (founded in 2001) and Eldiario.es (2012), and increasingly Público.es, too. The latter was a print daily from 2007 to 2012, before becoming online-only.
These pure players tend to focus on a few areas where they can excel. El Confidencial has historically concentrated on politics and business, for a more affluent and influential audience than the other natives. But it also diversified early on, with entertainment and technology portals. Eldiario.es specialises in new politics, personal/consumer finance, and culture, but it has now moved into sport, and world news though a partnership agreement with the Guardian. In a move aimed at gaining additional commercial scale, Eldiario.es also bought Vertele, a long-established portal specialising in news about television.
Público, alongside dedicated beats such as ‘climate change and animal abuse’ or ‘women, gender and vulnerable groups’, also publishes the viral vertical #Tremending. This mix of ‘tremendous and trending’ content, which combines rumour and humour with surveys and reader reactions, has become popular on many Spanish internet sites.
Most online news in Spain are still dependent on advertising with few publishers operating paywalls, though newspapers get some online income from selling e-editions from digital newsstands. Membership schemes are on the rise. Eldiario.es reached 20,000 voluntary paying members in December 2016 and is developing a platform that allows readers to fund specific stories or areas of coverage. Hipertextual, a site founded in 2005 and focusing on technology and science, and the leading site in Catalan language, NacióDigital, also launched voluntary membership schemes in 2016.
Online advertising continues to be the fastest-growing sector of the market (up 14%), but this in no way compensates for the loss of revenue from print. Overall advertising revenues grew 2.9% in 2016, up to €4,207m, according to Media Hotline-Arce Media,3 with television continuing to take more than half the market. Newspaper ad spend fell by 7.1%, with radio remaining stable.
Daily viewership of television fell for the fourth year in a row, though one in five (20%) now use some form of pay TV – a historic market high. In face of increased competition, broadcasters are developing more and more online content. Prisa Radio (Cadena SER) launched Podium Podcast in June 2016, offering investigative journalism series, entertainment, and fiction.
The Spanish have been quick to embrace the growth of messaging with WhatsApp now used by around a third (32%) of respondents for news. It has become one of the main ways of participation, especially through short voice recordings for radio, and many sites have added a WhatsApp share button.
Online has increased steadily in importance as the role of television has begun to wane. Social media use has dipped as the Spanish experiment with new messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. Smartphone access has now overtaken computers as the primary device for accessing online news.
Trust in news continues to increase after it hit its lowest level in 2015. One in three users check five or more online sources during the week, and 48% use five or more offline brands. Governments and opposition parties, nationally and in some regions, exchange accusations of institutional or individual pressure on journalists.