LAST week The National did something that no Scottish newspaper has done since the days before the internet forever changed the way we communicate and share information: it printed over a million single-edition copies, its special eight-page independence edition produced with the SNP and Believe in Scotland.
No Scottish newspaper now comes close to printing a million copies. In the 1980s The Sunday Post ran a million or more each week, and by the 1960s the estimated total readership of the newspaper was estimated to be almost three million, or over 80% of the Scottish population over the age of 16 years old. This led the Guinness Book of Records to rank it as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration in the world.
In the 1980s, the Daily Record ran considerably over 750,000 copies a day, and even until the 1990s, the Record’s stable mate, the Sunday Mail, ran over 800,000 copies every weekend.
Today, the Internet has become a staple of everyday life. A good broadband connection is as much a basic utility for running a household as electricity and water. Almost every household has a number of connected devices, and most of the population owns smartphones.
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As a result, the media landscape is now very different from the heyday of print newspapers. The Record now has a daily circulation of around 100,000 copies, but even that very small number allows it to rank among Scotland’s largest newspapers. Most of our information is consumed through computer and smartphone screens, these have become the means by which most of us now learn the latest news, even surpassing television news in their importance.
Newspapers have responded to this immense cultural and technological change by focusing on digital online editions. As a ‘digital native’ newspaper founded in the 21st century, The National has been particularly successful in this regard, even surpassing some older and more established publications in the reach of its digital edition and social media presence.
We are still in the early years of the digital revolution, but it is as important and deep in its effects and ramifications as the industrial revolution that began at the end of the 18th century. Just as the industrial revolution and the printing revolution of the early Middle Ages took decades for their importance to really take hold, we are still working on the impact of the digital revolution.
Nevertheless, the written press still has an important role to play. Newspapers can still reach segments of the population that are not yet fully comfortable with digital technology or households that cannot afford broadband or expensive devices.
And print newspapers have another advantage that is often less appreciated. In some ways, new online media are victims of their own strengths and successes. The fact that publication has become democratized through the Internet is undoubtedly a good thing. Now all you need to get your point across is an internet connection, keyboard, and word medium.
However, the downside to this has been a growing lack of public confidence in information and the media. When it becomes very cheap, if not essentially free, to publish information, it results in a loss of the perceived value of that information.
When information could only be transmitted by painstaking handwriting, books were expensive to produce and the prerogative of the very wealthy. They were precious, securely locked up, and passed down from generation to generation as a precious and precious heirloom.
The introduction of the printing press saw the creation of the first truly ephemeral sources of information, the brochure. However, this still involved a considerable expenditure in terms of time, effort and materials. The act of physically distributing the printed materials was also expensive and time consuming.
This meant that the prints were seen to have some value.
and with value comes trust. Nowadays, information received online is unreliable, and its lifespan is as short as the time it takes to scroll or click a link to another page.
Because information is now considered to be eminently ephemeral and is free to consume and distribute, value is perceived in different ways, so it is the nature of the internet that people tend to seek out sources of information that confirm and reinforce their existing beliefs and opinions. These become the sources that are valued and that people tend to share.
The result is that people tend to find their online existence happening in a reinforcement echo chamber. That is why, in order to be successful, it is vital that a political campaign breaks out and reaches new people who are not part of the self-selected group of already convinced.
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The National’s one million independent newspaper, distributed to homes across Scotland, has the potential to do just that. It has the kudos and inherent value of a physical product that can be held in your hands, and that alone gives it a perceived value greater than the pixels on a screen. It comes home delivered, which means it will be seen and read by people who wouldn’t go online to research pro-independence blogs or social media groups.
According to the office of National Records of Scotland, there are around 2.5 million homes in the country. One million copies of a newspaper put in letterboxes means this special edition could potentially reach almost half of all homes in Scotland.
It’s a reach that even the most prolific and active online independence resource could only dream of. The mere existence of this newspaper in so many homes alone tells an important story – that the campaign for independence in Scotland is large, well organized, important and should be taken seriously, even if you don’t. read the newspaper and have not been swayed by its convincing and persuasive arguments.
The publication of this document is an important sign that the campaign for independence is shifting into high gear, that it will not go away and that another referendum on independence is looming.