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Newspaper sales inched up

BARCELONA, May 29 – Global newspaper sales inched up last year, contradicting gloomy predictions that dailies face extinction, as gains in Africa, Asia and Latin America offset slumps in Europe and the US, an industry group said Wednesday.

Newspaper sales grew 1.3 percent worldwide last year from 2007 to 539 million daily, a rise of 8.8 percent over the past four years, said Gavin O\’Reilly, president of the World Association of Newspapers.

"The sector continues to grow," he said at the start of a two-day WAN conference in Barcelona, adding media commentators were making a "mistake" when they predicted the death of daily newspapers.

Dailies in wealthier nations are struggling due to the impact of the Internet and the slump in advertising caused by the economic downturn.

Several US newspaper groups have declared bankruptcy in recent months, including the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and several other newspapers.

Two major US dailies, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Rocky Mountain News, have shut down in the past few months, and dozens of others are threatened.

But in other markets like Asia, where a growing middle class is boosting the market for daily newspapers, the print media is thriving.

The Indian print media industry recorded growth of 16 percent in 2007 over the previous year, according to a study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers presented at the conference.

The relative health of the sector in the region was underscored earlier this month when the Wall Street Journal began printing a regional edition of the business newspaper in India, the world\’s second-most populous nation.

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O\’Reilly said advertising revenues at dailies around the world fell by about 5.0 percent last year and predicted the drop should be even steeper in 2009 but he said the sector would "rebound" once the global economic downturn ends.

He said the sector was facing a period of "hyper change" with the appearance of new platforms for the distribution of information such as the Internet and mobile telephones, but it would find ways to adapt to this new environment.

He denied strongly that the future is "only online."

Two-thirds of respondents in a survey carried out by PriceWaterhouse Coopers in seven countries that was presented Wednesday at the conference said they were willing to pay for general news content online.

Analysts predict that the advent of better mobile Internet technology such as the reader-friendly Apple iPhone combined with new payment systems will eventually make it easier for newspapers to flourish in the digital age.

The Wall Street Journal has had success in providing both free and paid content, reserving the deeper analysis, opinion and insight for paying readers only. It has just over one million online subscribers.

Rupert Murdoch, whose News International owns the Journal, has said he expects his other titles to start charging too for full access.

Finnish print media group Sanoma, one of the five largest magazine publishers in Europe with 220 titles and operations in more than 20 countries, has also built up a strong Internet presence which makes a key contribution to its bottom line.

"There is no free content," the head of Sanoma\’s news division, Mikael Pentikainen, told the conference.

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Sanoma, which publishes the Nordic region\’s largest broadsheet, Helsingin Sanomat, earns about 1.35 billion euros (1.88 billion dollars) per year from its print newspapers compared to 150 million euros from its online operations.

WAN represents 18,000 newspapers from over 120 countries.

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