LAST week, The National did something no Scottish newspaper has done since the days before the internet forever changed how we communicate and share news: it printed more than one million copies of a single edition, its eight-page independence special produced with the SNP and Believe in Scotland.

No Scottish newspaper now comes remotely close to printing a million copies. Back in the 1980s, the Sunday Post published a million or more each week, and in the 1960s it was estimated that the paper’s total estimated readership was close to three million, more than 80% of the population of Scotland over the age of 16. This led the Guinness Book of Records to rate it as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world.

In the 1980s, the Daily Record published considerably more than 750,000 copies a day, and even as late as the 1990s the Record’s stablemate the Sunday Mail was publishing more than 800,000 copies each weekend.

Now the internet has now become an essential of daily life. A good broadband connection is as much a basic utility for a household to function as power and water. Almost every home possesses a number of connected devices and most of the population have smartphones.

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As a consequence the media landscape is now very different from the heyday of print newspapers. The Record now has a daily circulation of around 100,000, yet even this much reduced figure allows it to rank as one of Scotland’s biggest newspapers. Most of our news is consumed via computer and smart phone screens, these have become the means by which most of us now learn about breaking news stories, overtaking even broadcast television news in its importance.

Newspapers have responded to this immense cultural and technological shift by switching their focus to digital online editions. As a “digital native” newspaper which was founded in the 21st century, The National has been particularly successful in this regard, even overtaking some older and more established publications in the reach of its digital edition and its presence on social media.

We are still in the early years of the digital revolution but it is as important and far-reaching in its effects and ramifications as the Industrial Revolution which got under way in the late 18th century. Just as the Industrial Revolution, and the printing revolution of the High Middle Ages took several decades for their import to be truly felt, we are still working through the impact of the digital revolution.

Nevertheless the print media still has an important role to play. Newspapers can still reach those parts of the population which are yet to become fully comfortable with digital technology or households which cannot afford a broadband connection or expensive devices.

And print newspapers have another advantage which is often less appreciated. In some ways the new online media is a victim of its own strengths and successes. The fact that publication has become democratised by the internet is without doubt a good thing. Now all you need in order to get your message out there is an internet connection, a keyboard, and a way with words.

However, the downside of this has been a growing lack of public trust in information and the media. When it becomes very cheap, indeed essentially free, to publish information, there is a consequent loss in the perceived value of that information.

When information could only be transmitted by laboriously writing it out by hand, books were expensive to produce and the preserve of the very wealthy. They were treasured, locked away safely, and passed down for generations as valuable and prized heirlooms.

The introduction of printing saw the creation of the first truly ephemeral sources of information, the pamphlet. However, it still entailed a considerable expense in terms of time, effort and materials. The act of physically distributing the printed materials was likewise expensive and time consuming.

This meant printed matter was perceived to have a certain value

and with value comes trust. Nowadays there is little trust in information received online and it has a shelf life as short as the time it takes to scroll by or to clink a link to another page.

Because information is now regarded as being eminently ephemeral and is free to consume and distribute, value is perceived in different ways, It is thus the nature of the internet that people tend to seek out sources of information which confirm and reinforce their existing beliefs and views. These become the sources which are valued and which people tend to share.

The result is people tend to find that their online existence is spent in a re-inforcing echo chamber. This is why, if it is to be successful, it is vital for a political campaign to break out and reach new people who are not part of the self-selecting group of the already convinced.

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The National’s one million copies of an independence newspaper, distributed to homes across Scotland, has the potential to do this. It has the kudos and inherent value of a physical product which can be held in your hands, and that alone gives it a perceived value greater than pixels on a screen. It is being delivered to homes meaning that it will be seen and read by people who would not go online to search out pro-independence blogs or social media groups.

According to the office of the National Records of Scotland, there are approximately 2.5 million households in the country. One million copies of a newspaper being put through letterboxes means that this special edition could potentially reach almost half of all households in Scotland.

That’s a reach even the most prolific and active online independence resource could only dream of. The mere existence of this newspaper in so many homes by itself tells an important story, that the campaign for independence in Scotland is large, well-organised, important and must be taken seriously, even if you have not perused the paper and been swayed by its compelling and persuasive arguments.

The publication of this paper is an important sign that the campaign for independence is switching up a gear, that it’s not going away, and that another independence referendum is coming down the line.