Newspapers are the original mass medium and they are not about to go out of fashion. In Asian markets, people cannot get enough of newspapers and there's a boom in newsprint and advertising in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Latin America. In those markets where growth is slower, newspapers have vigorously set about reinventing themselves and finding other ways to reach a growing readership.
In 2004, worldwide newspaper circulation increased by 2.1 per cent to a daily total of 395 million copies, with average readership estimated at one billion people daily, according to the latest annual statistics published by the World Association of Newspapers and ZenithOptimedia.
The number of daily newspapers worldwide, including free journals, grew by 2 per cent in 2004 to 6,580 titles. Advertising revenue rose by 5.3 per cent, the best performance in four years. "It's positive because there's a lot of room for growth in developing markets and this year there's growth in mature markets as well," the WAN spokesman, Larry Kilman, says.
The growing competition between media has forced newspapers to change up a gear. Although advertisers have not always taken advantage of the opportunities offered by new editorial products and the quality pages coming off the presses, some clients have continued to put press at the top of their brand-building and tactical advertising agendas. Volkswagen produced probably the most celebrated ad campaign of all time back in 1959 with Bill Bernbach's "think small". Its newspaper advertising is still selling cars and cleaning up at awards ceremonies, not least winning the 2004 Cannes Grand Prix for press with DDB London's "cops".
The UK has produced some memorable newspaper campaigns in the past few years, such as Saatchi & Saatchi's ads for Club 18-30 and, more recently, Lowe London's work for Tesco, which won gold at last year's Campaign Press Awards.
The French have also produced some landmark press work recently. TBWA\Paris has been nothing short of a creative phenomenon. It scooped the Cannes press Grand Prix twice in five years - once in 2005 for its EMI music piracy awareness campaign and in 2003 with Sony PlayStation.
However, the vice-chairman and chief creative officer at TBWA\ France, Marie-Catherine Dupuy, believes the approach to newspaper advertising is not distinct in each market so it is often hard to guess where a campaign originated.
Despite the international honours often going to France or the UK, agencies in South America, South Africa, Australia, Singapore and Thailand among others have been rewarded for their creative press work - just look at the press gold Lions at Cannes. "Press is still the core of advertising," Matthew Bull, Lowe's worldwide chief creative officer, says.
South African agencies such as the independent The Jupiter Drawing Room and TBWA\Hunt Lascaris are renowned for the creativity of their press advertising. Jupiter's award-winning work includes a campaign for Nugget shoe polish, which won at Cannes in 2005. The market for newspapers in the territory is strong and growing - newspaper advertising revenues increased by 15 per cent in 2004. Bull, who started out in South Africa, says: "It's a very strong market, pretty much because there is less money to spend on TV. With TV, people tend to use much more research, then dumb things down. They are much more adventurous with print."
While Dupuy argues it is difficult to tell where campaigns for global advertisers originate, JWT's worldwide chief creative officer, Craig Davis, cites two countries on different continents that he feels are producing more than their fair share of the world's best newspaper ads. "The strongest print markets in the world are Brazil and Singapore. Asia generally is the potent force in print and the standard of thinking, execution and finish is extraordinarily high. Both Brazil and Singapore understand that print advertising needs to be thoroughly surprising and entertaining."
Although it is impossible to generalise about the Asian sector, there are some extraordinary newspaper markets in the east. Japan is a law unto itself, with six of its daily papers in the world's top ten according to circulation. Newspapers account for 60 per cent of advertising expenditure in Malaysia and 55 per cent in South Korea, according to figures from the media agency OMD.
"I think the Asian people are in love with newspapers," Mike Cooper, the OMD chief executive, Asia-Pacific, says. "The newspaper market is vibrant and you've got some big, exciting markets such as Thailand or Hong Kong, which has dozens of different newspapers." Cooper also notes the region's large number of English-language papers, which are particularly attractive to advertisers because of their upscale audiences.
Of course, where an economy is booming, there is a stronger chance that newspapers will follow the pattern of growth. The executive director of the International Newspaper Marketing Association, Earl J Wilkinson, says: "The strongest markets for newspapers are the strongest growth markets - India and China. Innovation attaches itself to fertile economic environments, and these will be the two national markets to watch."
More newspapers circulate in China than in any other country. It is also predicted to become the world's second- biggest ad market. A combination of population growth, increasing literacy and economic changes has led to a rapid rise in newspaper ad revenue.
As recently as 1998, all China's newspapers were government-owned propaganda organs. Now only half of them remain under some form of government control.
A number of press groups have been established and declining government intervention will encourage further investment.
ZenithOptimedia predicts an increase in Chinese newspaper adspend from $2.27 billion in 2002 to $6.34 billion in 2007 - not far short of a trebling of revenues in five years.
The story in India is not very different in terms of expenditure, with ZenithOptimedia predicting a rise from $773 million in 2002 to $2.48 billion in 2007. In the past four years, Indian newspaper circulations have grown annually at 4.3 per cent.
Most Indian media businesses are family owned but recent expansion has attracted overseas investors. Tony O'Reilly, the chief executive of Independent News & Media, was quoted in The International Herald Tribune describing India as "the new theatre of strategic investment".
The Asian markets have been attracting a great deal of attention in the past few years but newspapers are thriving in other markets. Jonathan Barnard, the knowledge manager at ZenithOptimedia, highlights several other territories: "The fastest-growing newspaper markets are in the developing markets of Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Russia, Indonesia and Poland are notable examples."
"Newspapers are benefiting from several factors," Barnard adds. "Fast-growing populations, rising literacy and improved distribution networks mean more people are reading newspapers and are able to buy them while their news is still timely. Rising wealth means these readers are becoming more valuable to advertisers."
Brazil stands out from other South American countries because of its huge scale. Its 532 daily newspapers put it in third place behind the US and China, and print ad expenditure is predicted to rise from $665 million in 2002 to $1.36 billion in 2007.
With the Brazilian economy on an upswing, newspaper revenues are set to benefit.
Kilman singles out several European countries where innovation is driving newspaper markets. "Perhaps the most exciting European market at the moment is Poland," he says, "where an already lively newspaper industry was enlivened by the launch and rapid ascent of Axel Springer's Fakt. In just 18 months it has become the country's top-selling paper. The indigenous market leader, Agora, has responded with a launch of its own. And the market is witnessing a number of other launches."
It is not just the Eastern and Central European markets that are dynamic.
As Kilman points out, the established European markets are also leading international developments. "The Independent's successful conversion to a compact format has inspired more than 70 newspapers around the world to follow suit," he says. "In the past 18 months, newspapers from Brazil to Belgium, Norway to New Zealand and Portugal to Puerto Rico are adopting smaller formats."
The UK newspaper market is one of the world's leaders. As well as being strong in newspaper design and print advertising creativity - as recognised by the national ANNA awards - the market is at the cutting edge of much innovation. Guy Zitter, the commercial director of Associated Newspapers, says: "The UK newspaper market is the most hotly contested and vibrant in the world. A combination of geography and history has given it more and better newspapers than anywhere else on the planet."
In common with other developed markets, there appears to be a long-term decline in newspaper readership in the UK but that glosses over other factors. "In the past year we have seen dramatic innovation," Zitter adds.
"We've taken broadsheets to tabloids and Berliner. There are more editions, more free newspapers and more varied promotions.
"Underpinning all this drive is an even bigger investment of hundreds of millions of pounds by the major players in better full-colour presses for the future. There can be no more fascinating media battleground."
The UK newspaper industry's determination to innovate and reward creativity is mirrored in the US. The Newspaper Association of America launched the Athena Awards in 1998 as a showcase of creative excellence in the country's ad industry. Last year's winner was the agency Cramer-Krasselt with its campaign for the jobs website Careerbuilder.com.
As in the UK, the US newspaper industry is putting substantial investment into finding new ways to reach readers. John Kimball, the senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at the NAA, says: "Significantly, we are all starting to talk not simply about paid-for circulation but rather about the total audience that comes to news through the newspaper's brand. Consider a newspaper, its website and any other associated products, such as foreign-language papers, free distribution, real estate magazines and automotive magazines. When you add up all the people who come to the paper, the total number is not shrinking, it's growing dramatically."
The US has its share of free, urban papers that target a younger market.
The Chicago Tribune Red Eye is one successful free tabloid, as is the Dallas Morning News' spin-off title, Quick. The Scandinavia-based Metro group is now responsible for freesheets across the world and, with other newspaper groups joining the fray, this is one development that is regenerating newspaper readership. "Free dailies now have pole readership position in Denmark, Spain and Switzerland," Kilman says. "Nearly twice as many 13- to 24-year-olds across European cities read a free daily as read a paid-for paper. But the reverse is true among 25- to 34-year-olds. This suggests freesheets are encouraging a new generation into the newspaper food chain and they will convert to paid-for titles in time."
New and younger readers are attractive to advertisers but will they inspire a new generation of advertising creatives to come up with great ads?
Newspapers still push buttons in the ad agency hierarchy, despite the obvious appeal of creating high-profile television commercials. "I think it's a great opportunity for creative people to show what they can do," Bull says, perhaps unsurprisingly given Lowe's success in the medium. "The new Tesco work is a brilliant use of press advertising. Many companies - especially those in retail - use press as quick-response work, but the art is to advertise the brand."
Davis is another fan of newspaper advertising. But he acknowledges much of the work needs an injection of inspiration to enable it to match the editorial standards of the newspapers in which it appears. "The single biggest issue with most print advertising is that it is completely upstaged by the content around it," he says.