Newspapers Continue Decline, At Least In Print

Editor & Publisher has released the latest circulation numbers for the newspaper industry — and they show that the decline in hard-copy readership continues. Almost all major metropolitan broadsheets lost significant ground in the last year, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and my local Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Blame the big metro papers — again. The Audit Bureau of Circulations released the spring numbers this morning, revealing more plunges in daily and Sunday circulation.
As in the past, the losses are steep while gains are minimal. This is the fifth consecutive reporting period that overall newspaper circulation experienced big drops, despite easing comparisons. For all papers reporting daily circulation, the Newspaper Association of America said that daily circ fell 2.1% while Sunday tumbled 3.1%.
All daily averages reported are for Monday through Friday. The comparisons are based on the six-month period ending March 2007 and the six-month period ending March 2006.

In a growing economy, entire industries should not show such consistent decline. In the case of newspapers, though, they have never benefitted from the economic boom that started in 2003 and continues to this day. Perhaps that might account for the coverage, or lack thereof, that the expansion has received.
How badly have newspapers declined? The Dallas Morning News suffered a catastrophic collapse, losing more than 14% of its subscribers during the reporting period. The Miami Herald lost 10% of its Sunday subscribers and 5.5% of its daily readers. Its competitor, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, didn’t fare any better, losing 8.6% of its subscribers. Many newspapers found themselves in the 4-5% loss range, including the LA Times and its chief competitor, the Orange County Register; the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; the San Jose Mercury News; and the Washington Post lost 3.4%.
The big question is why? Many of these newspapers have no real metropolitan competition, but those that did didn’t send readers to the enemy paper. Only the New York Post appears to have fed off the failure of the New York Daily News. The problem appears to be a move away from print versions of the paper, across the board, rather than a decline in interest. In fact, the rise of the blogosphere shows that people have a heightened sense of interest in news and the inclination to use several sources to satisfy their curiosity.
What we need is statistics that include on-line readership and ad revenue. It’s entirely possible that the newspaper business is thriving, and that these numbers shows a paradigm shift on delivery. At the least, the picture given by ABC and E&P is incomplete, and difficult to analyze as a result. And given that so many of us in the New Media rely on traditional media outlets for source material, a decline in fortunes — and therefore eventually investment and product — is nothing to cheer. (via Howard Kurtz)

21 thoughts on “Newspapers Continue Decline, At Least In Print”

  1. The Dallas stats probably reflect a cumulative decline as they were barred from reporting for a period of time and this marks their return to the stats page. It’s still bad, but it’s certainly a statistical anomaly in the current period reporting.

  2. The New York Sun ( a very good newspaper) has also benefited from the collapse of the News and Newsday. It is however still a fairly tiny presence with less than half the readership required to make this list. But it only began a few years ago.

  3. I don’t understand why major newspapers can’t package different products for different tastes, like cable TV does–premium, basic1, basic2, etc. Computer-controlled printing can certainly do that. Sell a full international version, a sports-heavy version, a local-only version, and a tabloid/gossip version at different prices, all from the same machine. Use some imagination. Then people might buy the local-only version along with their Wall Street Journal, and not just the Wall Street Journal. And most of all, don’t pick every story and write every story from a strict leftist perspective. Turn that careful cosmetic diversity into some real diversity of opinion.

  4. RBMN … I like that idea a lot with the different versions for the different readers … without turning this into yet another right-left issue and blaming the MSM, it would be nice if I could buy a paper when on the road that dealt with only national issues and sports … probably would not be cost effective though for outlets to carry all the different prints.

  5. If I glance at the headlines on the Internet before I go to bed, there’s not going to be anything leading my morning paper that I won’t know about.
    On the Internet, I can quickly find additional articles on the issues I’m interested in.
    I’ve long said that if I could just get a good sports section delivered to my door, they can keep the rest. Just the boxscores and the columns I need to get me through breakfast, etc.
    Or, E-mail what I want, so I can quickly print it out in the a.m.

  6. No Donkey … you can get all the sports you ever need from the Blue-White Illustrated. Anything else is merely faux sports.

  7. IMHO we need better journalists and more balanced views (thanks RBMN). I can’t read my local newspaper, since their idea of “balanced” is to print random mix of right, but mostly left opinions, in a totally spineless way. I need a NEWSPAPER and not a SENSPAPER and I am this close to cancel my subscription. Especially since, unlike in the past I could still get my news from the web.
    Did anybody notice how different and more informative newspapers were 50, or 60 years ago? Rare reprints of the front pages from the past give some idea of what the front page and front page news use to be.

    In other words? One of the things the NY Times counted on was the readership it got from commuters. People locked onto the trains; or traveling the Staten Island Ferry. All taking routes into New York City. To work. And, what are they doing now?
    Probably? They’ve got choices between iPods, and other devices. Where they can choose to listen to all sorts of media.
    While, a long time ago? The New York Times was so instilled in the bones of New Yorkers, many had the papers delivered out-of-state. And, when the New York Times ran a classified ad campaign, saying “people found work in their pages;” this was probably more true. Than, not.
    Papers, in particular, make their money from the ads. The cost of the papers that you pay to read them? A drop in the bucket. But it beats being called “a free throw-away.”
    The market, by the way, where there are people who want to sell their accummulated junk at a garage sale? That’s still there. eBay’s done a hunk of a job, absorbing a lot of this cash.
    Now, what about the role of pundits?
    Because in SUPREME CONFLICT, Greenberg points out that in DC, the “paper of record” is the WaPo. And, it gets read by the in-crowd, the same way actors read Variety. In other words?
    Variety is NOT influencial in every market! Heck, you wouldn’t care, would ya? But the insiders read it and weep. Or read it and celebrate. One way or the other, Variety can make and break careers.
    Variety does it on “scoops.”
    WaPo, and it’s sister, the New Yuk Times, are extremely influencial, still, with the “society set.” Who wouldn’t think of running a party without getting it mentioned as something you weren’t invited to. Writ large in ink. (Like Tuman Capote’s Black and White Ball.)
    And, the worst thing these papers still do?
    Ah, they still influence the “9.” Who sit up on the Supremes. You think Roberts, for instance, is out of the woods? How so? Rehnquist lived and died by what they wrote in their pages. (And, you thought it was right wing ideology?)
    By the way, the 42nd Street Building, Shultzberger (or however pinch spells the family name) just sold? It’s a “landmark” building. Meaning you can’t change it much. And, on the streets below, human flesh is traded. In what was once a very ugly, but profitable, neighborhood.
    Taking 9/11 money … YES, you don’t need to check your glasses; The New york Times built a brand new building. Less cash. Than the gifts of giving politicians hand out to one another. So, it’s not exactly a “down side.”
    Maybe, instead, what you need to do is examine the current wave of bad press. (From Citizen Cane you were supposed to come away with the idea that very rich people, bought these media outlets, as excercises in philanthropy. Again, just a myth. Not true. To own one of those things is to PRINT MONEY.)
    To make profits?
    Well, not the same way Wal-mart does, ya know?
    Did pinch make stupid business decisions? SURE. He grabbed off the Boston paper and triple what it was worth. So, in the lexicon, he OVER-PAID. And, then he FIRED PEOPLE.
    Now, you’re near the nut.
    FIRING PEOPLE WHO WRITE FOR A LIVING has a backfire to it that smells like “Tenet.”
    While as far as the outsiders can tell, nobody’s pushing pinch out of an executive window.
    Will newspapers ever come back to life? Nah.
    It used to be, back when so many immigrants came in waves; and then stayed in the teeming streets of New york City; you’d send kids out, after school. Just as rush hour traffic put lots of people, through the funnel. Exiting the subways. To go home. And, these kids would charge two-cents for a paper. Competing for business by yelling out the day’s headline. News comes and goes. But when that was all ya got to give you the latest; newspapers sold.
    Markets change.
    What remains the same, though?
    The affluent still want their announcements appearing in the pages of the BIG papers.
    So, too, do new restaurants. Competing for the money people, today, spend, eating out.
    The other by-product? What would you be using to train a puppy, if not the largest sheets you could spread out?
    Someday? Perhaps, there will be analysts, who write stuff that can consistently do better and predicting outcomes? So there’s always hope. Because writers are born into every generation. And, if you really knew what was going on “in background,” you’d still be amazed. Each and every day. It would beat reading between the lines.

  9. As the WWII generation passes on, the subscriptions will continue to decline. There are few replacements for them. Anyone believe the millenials are having a remnant from the dinosaur media dropped on their doorstep each day? They believe email is too slow and antiquated these days. RIP print media.

  10. Media Economics Versus Macro Economics

    Ed Morrissey explores the gloomy numbers for traditional (i.e. hard copy) newspapers:How badly have newspapers declined? The Dallas Morning News suffered a catastrophic collapse, losing more than 14% of its subscribers during the reporting period. The …

  11. Certain Newspapers Defying Subscription Decline

    Circulation at the nation’s biggest newspapers isn’t getting any better:
    NY Times: DOWN
    Boston Globe: DOWN
    LA Times: DOWN
    Chicago Tribune: DOWN
    Washington Post: DOWN
    USA Today and The Wall Street Journal garnered circulation increases tha…

  12. Some of this is success by the lefties of making people stick their heads in the sand, too. It seems for every gain the right makes with information spreading, the left manages to make a gain like hate crimes, or the fairness doctrine, or some other way of shutting down debate, closing people’s mouths, and their minds. I’m betting that most of those who are getting interested in the news, especially of all those “new” outlets, are from the right, finally getting a breath of the truth. The rest of those from the left finally hearing it, but don’t want to admit it, so they just start singing lalalala.

  13. Monkei,
    Do you pay to subscribe to Blue-White Illustrated? is it worth it? Do you get a copy in the mail as well? They have a good website.
    I’m a paid subscriber to two sports websites already (ESPN and Pro Football Weekly), but why pay for the news? It’s everywhere and free.
    BTW, I was up at Penn State last weekend and what a beautiful campus. I’m biased, but I’ve been to a number of college campuses and I haven’t seen one that outclasses Penn State (although UNC Chapel Hill comes close).

  14. Ed – If memory serves, ABC discussed counting online stats a few years ago and came up with a ridiculous requirement that the newspapers had to charge at least half the normal home-delivery rate for their online content. I have no idea whether that’s been updated or scrapped, but NoDonkey has the reason why that was completely unworkable.
    As for online stats, which numbers would you trust? Hits and page views are completely unreliable, and “unique” visitors can be inflated by something as innoculous as refusing a tracking cookie (which is my SOP).
    Further, whatever a paper can get through their online presence is and will be but a fraction of what it used to get through dead trees. As Sean Hackbath of The American Mind pointed out in his trackback article, there is no replacement for lost classified ad revenue. The “lucky” media outlets will get some of their readership to provide free content for them to replace columnists and editorial boards.

  15. RBMN – Hyper-customization as a savior is a good thought; however, the technology of printing makes that nigh impossible using dead trees much beyond 3 editions per press. Even modern presses require time-consuming plate changes between editions.
    Even if you could make a breakthrough in printing, distribution of multiple editions at the same single-copy outlet is, at best, problematic. For vending machines, it would take a major, costly redesign. At retailers, there is only so much rack space.

  16. The Baltimore Sun also reported further decline. If you’ve ever attempted to read it, you would quickly understand why.
    The most obvious reason is that The Sun provides less than half the content of either the Washington Post or the Washington Times but charges twice as much.
    The Sun’s management also foolishly believes that its readership hasn’t noticed their bias or their shabby writing. It’s just awful. For nearly a year, I’ve been reading the FREE Baltimore Examiner and find that they have done a pretty good job with local coverage.

  17. NPR’s All Things Considered ( did a piece a few days ago where they discussed that while major papers in metropolitan areas are cratering, locally focused papers in small communities are doing very well. Well enough that they’re getting snatched up.
    It seems to pass my gut check: given the age of the internet, how many different places are people going to go to get national/world news? Alternatively, how many places *can* they go to get locally focused news?

  18. One aspect in the circulation drop has not been explored.
    I cannot help but notice that the circulation of the Arizona Repulsive has dropped — and this is in the fastest growing Metro area in the US.
    They can’t even import enough liberals from California and up north to keep their circulation level. The stench of bad journalism has no bounds.

  19. Exactly, spectregunner..we moved to AZ in 04 and have never subscribed…saw a few copies at work and it’s the usual leftist crap. If you pay for it you are supporting it. Let the market work! What would happen if newspapers were targeted to their communities rather than coastie elites without exception? Interesting that their desire for cash seems to be less than their desire to bend the public mind.

  20. A lot of different people in our family used to buy newspapers regularly, and most of them have quit – irrelevant of whether they are online, or not. They’ve also quit listening tot he BIG 3 Network News, although they still go listen to the local news from those networks.
    They are tired of being lied to, and being spoon-fed Liberal garbage(french accent, please).
    Like when they tell us that ALL Americanc are for ILLEGAL ALIEN AMNESTY and for pulling out of IRAQ toot sweet – they think we don’t know ourselves – that we can be as easily fooled as we were in the Vietnam era.
    We usually don’t bother to let THEM know we know what they are doing, either.
    And they haven’t missed us, you notice.
    We are like, you know, when the coyote is chasing the roadrunner and they run off the end of the cliff, the cloud of dust dissipates, the roadrunner is standing on the opposite bank, the coyote is standing on thin air, he reaches down, feels around for a while, then drops….
    We’re waiting for the MSM to notice that the earth is moving under their feet.

  21. And most of all, don’t pick every story and write every story from a strict leftist perspective. Turn that careful cosmetic diversity into some real diversity of opinion.
    Posted by: RBMN
    And THEREIN lies the RUB, you see.
    SO LOL!
    These guys are busy trying to get The Fairness Doctrine BACK IN PLACE, they ain’t gonna give up column space to reflect the American public – that is one of those things you pry from their cold dead fingers.
    In this case, FOSSILIZED, EVEN!

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