WAN-IFRA's conference is underway in Vienna, where it has delivered its report into publishing trends
Last year the report recorded its first ever decrease in global newspaper circulation, which declined by 0.8 per cent in 2009. The latest study focused on the 69 countries which account for 90 per cent of global industry value, and found that circulation declined by overall by 2 per cent, dropping to 519 million in 2010.
However the report added that "what has been lost to print has been more than made up by digital newspaper readers".
"We get readers, but less regularly," Christoph Riess, CEO of WAN-IFRA, told the forum.
"The reader is more promiscuous, moving from one platform to another. We need to change business models and convince readers to come back."
While internet consumption is increasing worldwide, newspapers continue to reach a larger daily audience of around 2.3 billion people, 20 per cent higher than the 1.9 billion reached by the internet. But the report suggests this is costing broadcast media more than newspapers, with the minutes spent listening to radio each day having dropped by 23 per cent since 2006, compared to just 7 per cent of the time spent consuming newspapers.
Presenting the report's findings Riess said the importance of the circulation findings were not the total figures but the changes in purchasing patterns and the need to reconsider newspaper subscription models and encourage readers to return.
"We are not losing readers, we are losing readership. Our industry challenge is engagement. Because someone is a subscriber does not make him a loyalist."
On a global scale the findings varied. The biggest decreases in newspaper circulations were reported in North America, with an 11 per cent year-on-year drop, while Europe also saw negative growth - in Western Europe circulations dropped by 2.5 per cent and in Eastern and Central Europe the losses were even higher at 12 per cent.
However in the Asia Pacific region, circulation actually increased 7 per cent in 2010, and by 2 per cent in Latin America. Japan was named as the leader for newspaper sales, with average circulations of 461,000 compared to a worldwide average of 17,000. In fact according to a hit-list of the biggest newspaper by sales shown by Riess, Japan had four of the top ten titles.
"Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West," Riess said.
But Riess reassured the conference that although impressive, biggest is not always best. "Newspapers are about communities, either of geography or of interest. It is in satisfying these communities that newspapers can still flourish."
Within the free newspaper market in particular the report found significant losses. From 2008 to 2010 the total distribution figure for free titles dropped by 10 million, from 34 million to 24 million.
"For free dailies the hype is over", Riess said. "In many cities, too many free newspapers have been launched with punitive effects. But they added energy and encouraged a lost younger generation into newspaper readership and that always should be encouraged.
"Now the market is maturing, and though the number of titles has declined, there are still opportunities".
A particular key to success could be in greater engagement of these younger audiences, with the research finding that within European cities where free newspapers are available readership by 15 to 24 year olds was 50 per cent higher for free than paid-for dailies.
While the report found the digital audiences are helping to fill the decline in print circulation, this is not the case for advertising revenues, with digital advertising figures not yet compensating for print losses.