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Decline, decline, decline (in Italy)

April 23, 2011

In its last report on the developments of the Italian press, the Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali (FIEG) gave a complete, yet alarming, overview of the so-called crisis of print media in Italy. The report, La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, is a precious tool to understand “one of the most critical periods” [1] of the publishing industry and to discover why this period of recession is taking place. After touching upon various causes of the crisis, the FIEG provides trends and numbers about the declining revenues, sales, readers and workforce of newspapers and periodicals – thus making clear the current difficult situation of the Italian print industry.

Among the various causes of the crisis, the report lists the competition played by traditional and new media in terms of advertising revenue, low readership levels of Italians in general, high production costs and the overall economic recession. However, the FIEG also lays blame on the Italian government for being completely absent and not helping the industry with economic provisions and institutional reforms.

The report states that the most critical problem is the collapse of advertising investments. In total, ad revenues to newspapers and periodicals fell 21% in 2009.[2] This loss was especially felt by the periodical press, rather than dailies, where ad revenues fell 29.5% in 2009 alone.[3] This collapse is to be considered normal in this period of economic downturn. However, this is not the only reason why print ad revenue has kept falling in the last few years. The FIEG lays blame on what is called the “excess of power of the television.”[4] To prove its point, the FIEG cites the OFCOM, an independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, whose report calculates the distribution of advertiser expenditure in twelve major economically advanced countries in 2008. In the report, Italy appeared to be the only country where TV absorbed 49.9% of advertiser expenditure, while only 33.1% went to newspapers and magazine. These numbers highly contrast with what happens in other major countries such as the UK (26.4% of advertiser expenditure to TV and 39.4% to newspapers and magazines), France (28.4% to TV and 39.3% to print media), and Germany (23% to TV and 42.6% to print).[5]

The FIEG report notes that this situation is going to worsen, in the next few years. Television in Italy will continue to collect advertising resources thanks to the European directive 2007/65/CE on audiovisual media.[6] The new EU directive will allow TV programs to increase their profits by using new forms of advertising such as product placement – once prohibited and now allowed in any TV program, except those targeted at children and in the news.

Decline of ad revenue is not the only type of recession concerning the press in Italy. The FIEG report, in fact, also deals with sales declines. Newspaper readership in Italy has always been very low compared to other major OECD countries.[7] In the OECD report The Evolution of News and the Internet 2010 only 45% of sampled adults in Italy claimed to have read a newspaper recently or the day before.[8] This percentage is very low compared to other countries such as Germany (71%), Canada (73%), Portugal (85%), Japan (92%) and Iceland (96%).[9] With a population of a little more than 60 million people in Italy, in fact, only 5,145,647 newspaper copies were sold on a daily basis in 2008 (i.e. – every 1000 inhabitants only 86 newspaper copies are sold).[10]

Italians prefer television. This is clearly showed by a 2007-2009 CENSIS (Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali) report cited by the FIEG, where 97.8% of sampled adults claimed to have watched TV at least once during the previous week. The percentage goes down to 54.8% when it comes to paid-for daily newspapers – a striking number if we also consider that the percentage declined by 12.2% since 2007. [11]

The FIEG also reports that Italian families spent an average of 64,134 million euro for entertainment and culture in 2008. Of this money, only 13,634 million euro (1.46%) was spent to buy newspapers or books. And this percentage is in decline compared to the previous years: 1.79% in 2000, 1.64% in 2004 and 1.52% in 2007.[12] The FIEG explains these already low but still declining levels of readership by claiming that Italian politicians have always underestimated the value of newspapers as means of civil and cultural endorsement, thus failing to promote readership in schools.

This same accusation is made by Felice Froio, journalist and author of the book L’Informazione Spettacolo, who dedicates a whole chapter to the relationship between young people and print media. Froio cites a 1996 CENSIS report, where high school students aged between 14 and 20 were asked where and when they usually read newspapers. In total, 66% of the students claimed they had never read or discussed a newspaper in school. Froio concludes that the public education system “does not encourage young people to read newspapers.”[13]

Overall, as the graph below shows, since 2000, average daily newspaper sales steadily declined (except in 2006, when it rose by 0.9%). In 2009 alone, sales fell by 5.9%, with a daily loss of 558 thousand copies since 2007. In its report, the FIEG also stresses the irregular newspaper sales in different parts of Italy. The majority of daily newspapers (54.5%) are purchased, therefore read, in Northern Italy (averagely, 102 copies every 1000 inhabitants); while in Central and Southern Italy the percentage is equal (22.8%) but, on average, 99 copies are sold to every 1000 inhabitants in the Center while only 56 copies are sold to every 1000 inhabitants in the South.[14]

The FIEG reiterates over and over that lower education levels means lower readership levels. Therefore, in order to equalize newspaper readership all over Italy, the Italian government should endorse educational programs that aim to enhance the civil and cultural values of the press. However, the FIEG recognizes that declining sales cannot be blamed only on low education levels or lack of government intervention. The report, in fact, stresses another extremely important reason why newspaper sales are decreasing and continue, anyhow, to be so low compared to other OECD countries. One of the main problems is the postal service.

In fact, it may seem banal, but a poor distribution does affect newspaper sales in terms of subscriptions. Compared to other economically advanced countries, in Italy the amount of copies sold through subscriptions is dramatically low. The FIEG reports that, in 2008, subscriptions accounted for only 9% of daily newspapers sales. This percentage was up to 65% in Germany, 75% in the USA, 88% in Finland and 95% in Japan.[15] Low subscription levels also concern magazines. In Italy, only 22% of sales occurred through subscriptions in 2008, while this percentage was up to 88% in Canada, 87% in the USA and 90% in Sweden.[16]

The FIEG accuses the Italian postal service of being inefficient and expensive. The problem is that the Italian government grants subsidized postal delivery only to those editorial companies using Poste Italiane and not any other mail service. The FIEG claims that this monopoly, which was also reported by the Antitrust, the Italian independent competition authority, is unbearable, as it discourages the use of better mail services.[17]

However, there is more that Italian legislation bodies should do in order to help the print industry. “It is not possible to wait for the crisis to stop by itself,” the FIEG writes in the conclusion of its report.[18] “Legitimate requests of financial support … which were made by the industry to the Parliament have not been met,” the conclusion reads. On the contrary, the FIEG claims that Italy’s legislation bodies fail to understand this dramatic period of deep changes and fail to ease the financial problems of the print industry.

The report names, as an example, the regulation forcing the industry to pay a much higher value-added tax (VAT) in case the same product – the news – is distributed online (20%) rather than on paper (4%).[19] The FIEG also blames the lack of any form of protection of newspaper content, “plundered scot-free by search engines and press releases.”[20]

Considering such a dramatic situation, one might think that thousands of Italian journalists have lost their jobs in the past few years. This is not the case. While in the United States “The American Society of News Editors census estimates 2,400 full-time professional newsroom jobs lost in 2007 and 5,900 in 2008,”[21] in Italy the number of working journalists actually increased in 2007 by 1.7% and began decreasing in 2008 (-0.8%) and 2009 (-2.9%). The FIEG calculates that only 321 journalists lost their jobs in 2009, 232 of them previously working in daily newspapers. [22] This “positive” trend, however, stays in line with Italy’s general social strategy of avoiding dismissals, while resorting to early retirements and redundancy payments. However, the situation for existing and aspiring journalists is not easy at all, as Simone Cosimi explains.

Particularly critical is the situation of freelance journalists, usually underpaid and often unemployed. In an article appearing in the newsletter of the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italian (FNSI) on the occasion of the Twenty-sixth National Congress of the Italian Press in Bergamo (11-14 January 2011), Daniela Stigliano wrote that, in 2009, one freelance journalist out of five earned no money at all, while 55% of them had a yearly gross income of less than 5,000 euro.[23] So, even though the workforce is not declining as fast as in the United States or in other European countries, the employment situation in Italy is as, if not even more, problematic.

As of today, decline concerns the most important aspects of the print media in Italy. As the FIEG reiterated many times in its report, the situation is critical and legislative intervention is required to help the industry and to protect media pluralism. Will the government, either Left or Right, ever take a stance to save the publishing industry as it intervenes to save banks and the car industry?


[1] Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali, La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, April 2010, http://www.fieg.it/

[2] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 17-18.

[3] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 27.

[4] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 43.

[5] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 43.

[6] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 46.

[7] Among OECD member countries, there are: the EU countries, the United States, Canada, Israel, Mexico and Korea. For a detailed list, visit: http://www.oecd.org/document/58/0,2340,en_2649_201185_1889402_1_1_1_1,00.html

[8] OECD, The Evolution of News and the Internet, June 2010, page 29.

[9] OECD, 29.

[10] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 36.

[11] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 34.

[12] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 18.

[13] Felice Froio, L’Informazione Spettacolo, (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 2000) 203.

[14] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 38.

[15] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 41.

[16] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 29.

[17] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 33.

[18] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 57.

[19] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 12.

[20] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 12.

[21] Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism, The State of the News Media, 2010, Newspaper 3.

[22] La Stampa in Italia 2007-2009, 54.

[23] Daniela Stigliano, “L’Altra Metà dei Giornalisti Lavora Strangolata dalla Competizione,” Nella Galassia dell’Informazione, December 2010, 30 http://www.fnsi.it/ArchivioPdf/GALASSIA_01_10.pdf

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