Penang’s public libraries experienced an annual increase of 7.9% in its overall membership from 2011-2017 (Figure 1). With the exception of Sabah and Sarawak, Penang made up the second-largest number of library memberships after Selangor, and this may indicate the high readership rate in Penang.
With the exception of 2016, collections in the rural libraries have been increasing from 2013-2017 (Figure 2). Meanwhile, the mobile and static libraries have recorded a steady increase in their collections since 2014.
To enhance readership in a digitally driven world, the Penang Digital Library was established in October 2016, providing 1,500 free memberships to users to access e-books subscribed by the Penang Digital Library. In January 2018 the paidmembership system was introduced; RM60 is charged for normal users, while students are able to enjoy a discounted rate of RM30. As of July 2019, a total of 254 users had signed up as members with the library.
The number of checkouts, on the other hand, dropped significantly corresponding with the number of memberships since its inauguration. With the introduction of the paid-membership system in 2018, the number of checkouts fell to 1,068 for the period of October 2017 to September 2018 (Figure 3). However, as of July 2019, the number of checkouts has seen an increase of 35%, with a total of 1,437 checkouts.
In Penang, the print media industry has grown significantly, as reflected in the number of establishments and the number of persons employed (Table 1). This industry made up 11.4% of the total establishments in Malaysia, engaging about 14% of the total number of employees in the country.
Printing services, which are the main sub-sector in this industry, includes the printing of newspapers, books, magazines, periodicals, stamps, calendars, advertisements and many others. Printing establishments grew by 20.4% annually from 2010-2015, with the number of persons engaged expanding at a slower rate of 11.5% for the same period.
Service activities related to printing, on the other hand, encompass activities such as binding, sorting, design and etc. These activities mainly support the printing sector and has greatly benefited from the sector’s growth, observing a staggering four-fold increase in the number of establishments and more than three-fold increase in the number of paid employees within a five-year period.
In terms of newspaper circulation, Penang saw a 42% drop in total average daily circulations since its peak in 2013 (Figure 4). This drop in newspaper circulation is not attributed to a reduction in readership, but instead by the transition of readers to digital platforms.
English newspapers in particular make up the largest proportion of newspaper circulation every day, with an average daily circulation of 68,705 in 2017 (Figure 4). However, it has dropped by approximately 35%, or 36,768 copies, from its peak in 2013; while its Malay counterpart had been the hardest hit, losing nearly 59% or 43,029 copies since 2013. Chinese newspapers, on the other hand, lost about 22%, or 4,329 copies, from 2013-2017. This may infer that Chinese readers still prefer printed newspapers, and they may be slower in transitioning to digital media.
The market share for Malay newspapers dropped by about 16% from 2011 to 2017 (Figure 5), while Chinese and English newspapers managed to increase their share of circulation in Penang by 1.7% and 14.4% respectively.
The drop in newspaper circulation is not an isolated case in Penang, but is consistent with newspaper circulation nationwide. Figure 7 shows tremendous growth in the digital replication of newspapers over the past five years in Malaysia. It is expected to continue growing as internet broadband penetration in Malaysia improves, but at the expense of declining newspaper circulation, as illustrated in Figure 6.