If you care about the state of newspapers, I encourage you to read the Newspaper Fact Sheet in the State of the News Media 2016 report published today by the Pew Research Center.
But if you want to get a quick sense of the report, just read the headlines for the graphics:
- Newspaper circulation declines for second consecutive year in 2015
- Print-only still most common way of reading newspapers
- Advertising revenue sees biggest drop since 2009
- A quarter of advertising revenue comes from digital
- As many newspaper companies saw a loss as saw profit in 2015
- Newsroom employment continues to fall
- The number of daily newspapers has decreased by more than 100 since 2004
- Newspapers gain in mobile traffic but fall in mobile minutes per visit
That’s a pretty grim state of newspapers. Read the details if you want, but the headlines capture them pretty well.
Those advertising figures didn’t come from the Newspaper Association of America’s annual reports. Those reports stopped two years ago, when report on 2013 numbers showed print advertising at $17.3 billion, a collapse from $47.4 billion in 2005. That’s a 64 percent drop in raw dollars in eight years, 69 percent after adjusting for inflation. I wonder why NAA stopped releasing its annual figures?
Since the NAA stopped issuing its bleak reports, Pew has calculated its newspaper revenue figures from the Securities and Exchange Commission filings of publicly held newspaper companies. For those companies at least (and more, I can assure you), the bleeding continues.
A mantra repeated by newspaper executives during this collapse was that we could never replace print advertising revenues with digital ads, that we were trading print dollars for digital dimes (and eventually digital pennies). Well, they’re right, newspapers haven’t been able to replace print ads with digital (in fact, newspaper companies’ digital advertising revenue actually declines in 2015, just not as sharply as print ad revenue). But digitally focused companies, not distracted by trying to protect a declining product, have scooped up all that advertising cash, dollar for dollar: Digital ad revenue last years totaled $59.6 billion, more than print ad revenue (even adjusted for inflation) in 2005, the last year newspapers’ ad revenues grew.
Despite all the hope and effort newspapers have poured into paywalls, digital subscriptions are mentioned just once in the newspaper fact sheet (and not with a revenue figure attached). The report says digital circulation increased by 2 percent (do I hear champagne corks popping?).
The digital news fact sheet not surprisingly reports that mobile advertising revenue has surpassed desktop ad revenue. Back in 2009, when the collapse of print advertising was accelerating, I called for a mobile-first strategy. I’m not aware of any newspaper organization that has made such a shift yet.
Newspapers used to comfort themselves in the face of grim numbers showing that young people weren’t reading newspapers, saying that they would start reading when they started having children and getting involved in their communities. Check out the daily newspaper readership by age: In the 45-54 age group, people whose children are in college, daily newspaper readership has fallen to 28 percent, half what it was a decade earlier.
When I first clicked on the newspaper fact sheet, I got an error message:
The folks at Pew quickly fixed the bad link. But I think the error page might how shown a brighter outlook for newspapers.
Correction note: I originally wrote “million” instead of “billion” in one of the numbers here. Wish I could say that’s the first time I’d made that mistake.