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Newspapers: By the Numbers

By Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, Emily Guskin and Tom Rosenstiel of Project for Excellence in Journalism.

New to this year’s report is a streamlined data section that houses a comprehensive set of charts and tables telling the story of each media sector. For a narrative summary, visit the corresponding essay.

Economics

The core of newspapers’ financial problems has been rapidly declining advertising revenues. They fell nearly 48% since 2006.

While the rate of loss was much less severe in 2010, trends were still negative, amounting to a loss of 6.3%.1

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Online revenues grew quickly in the middle years of the decade, but then crested and dropped in 2008 and 2009.  Online did resume its growth in 2010 but has not yet recovered to it 2006 peak.  Print ad revenues, despite their battering, still dwarf digital.

Looking just at print ad revenue, all three major categories have declined sharply.  Retail is down 42% since 2005; national is down 45% since 2003, and classified is down 67% since 2005.

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A longer view of print ad revenues shows them peaking at $48.7 billion in 2000.  Back then classifieds nearly equaled retail as the largest category.  By 2010, total revenues had fallen to $22.8 billion, a decline of about 53% in a decade.

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Classified print advertising has fallen drastically since 2000 – roughly 70%.  Also the mix of these ads has changed radically.

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Recruitment has fallen the most sharply, reflecting both a migration to electronic sites like Monster and a persistent employment slump through 2010.  The auto sector recovered some by the end of the year; real estate may rally later.  Meanwhile “other,” including such things as paid obituaries and legal notices, has held its own since 2000 and now is by far the largest sub category.

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Circulation revenues have declined much more slowly than those in advertising, only about 10% since 2003.  As a result, circulation’s share of total revenues now has risen from less than 20% early in the decade to roughly 27%.

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Newspaper stock prices rallied in 2009, suggesting that investors thought newspapers would survive and be profitable, at least in the near term.  Prices were more mixed in 2010. Companies, however, are now trading at one-half to less than one-tenth of their mid-decade peak price.

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Audience

Newspapers have been dogged by declining circulation for 15 consecutive six-month periods as measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.  But there was improvement of a sort in 2010: The rate of decline for the period ending September 30, 2010, was about half it had been for daily editions.

Daily and Sunday circulations have mostly fallen in tandem.  The exception was in the depth of the 2008-2009 recession when some paying readers abandoned the daily print edition but kept subscribing or buying single copies on Sundays.

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This 20-year view shows a steady slide in paid circulation.  Daily circulation, which stood at 62.3 million in 1990, fell to 43.4 million in 2010, a decline of 30%. Sunday circulation held up slightly better, falling from 62.6 million in 1990 to 46.2 million last year, off 26%.

In 1990, evening papers, which began to decline in the 1970s, made up about a third of daily circulation. In 2009, it was just over a tenth.

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The Wall Street Journal had the biggest year-to-year gain in 2010 and continued to widen its daily circulation lead over other papers, selling 2,061,142 copies on a typical day.  Journal circulation has held about even over the past two years while its chief rival in circulation, USA Today, fell by about 460,000 copies. USA Today has suffered as business travel decreased in the last two years, deals with hotels to distribute the paper lapsed, and travelers accessed news online more easily. The Journal benefits from having more than 400,000 digital subscribers counted in its paid total, far more than any other American paper.

Other papers posting gains or staying close to even were the Dallas Morning News, the St. Petersburg Times and the New York Post.

A number of metro papers in big cities have seen their paid circulations fall into the low 200,000s.  The Newark Star-Ledger and the San Francisco Chronicle both lost about a third of their 2008 daily circulations in 2009-10.

When print and online audiences are combined, a number of papers are actually expanding their total audience reach, even as the paid circulation totals fall.  Metros are losing paid circulation faster than the three national papers or smaller-circulation papers.  The 25 top gainers, by percentage, in combined print-online audience include midsize papers like the Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate in Connecticut and the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.  Some big metros like the Chicago Tribune, however, also excel.

Another, some would say more modern way to look at newspaper audience is to measure a paper’s total reach in print and online.  Scarborough Research has done that here, counting the number of people who read a print edition at least one day a week, plus the number accessing the website at least one time in a week (with an adjustment to avoid double counting those who do both.

The measure is for local market area only.  So the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are not measured at all and the national/international audience for the websites of The New York Times and Washington Post are not included.  By the local total audience measure several publications – among them the New York Daily News and Boston Globe – rank higher than they would counting paid circulation alone.

The print and online totals are measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulations and Scarborough, but the methodology is completely different from that used in its traditional measure of paid circulation.  Hence the much higher totals.  A reader is counted if he or she reads the print edition at least one day in a week or visits online at least once in a month.  The calculation is adjusted to avoid counting twice those who read both print and online.

Of the top 20 U.S. newspapers in terms of market penetration — the percentage of adults in a metro region reading the paper in print or online or both — 16 newspapers actually saw a decline in audience penetration from 2009 to 2010. Only three saw their overall reach increase in 2010.

A new indicator of audience strength is measuring paid circulation on various e-editions.  E-editions include paid online subscriptions (which only The Wall Street Journal has), subscriptions on e-readers (Kindles, iPads, Nooks or others) and e-replica editions (full online reproductions of newspapers, typically viewed on a computer).

The Wall Street Journal, which has been charging for its online site for more than a decade, leads with 449,000 paid digital readers.  That is more than four times the second-place Detroit Free Press and more than six times the New York Times.

For metro papers on the list, most of whose web sites remain free, the totals come mostly from e-replica editions, those that display the full print paper in its original layout, but electronically.  Without a lot of attention, the format has gained a foothold with readers (in part because it costs far less than home delivery of print).

The presence of the two Detroit papers high on the list reflects their decision in late 2008 to offer home delivery only on three days a week.  Some subscription packages include access to the e-edition other days of the week.

These numbers will continue to grow in coming years with sales to iPads and other tablets and experiments with paid online like the “metered model” that the New York Times plans to launch in the first quarter of 2011.

Over the last 20 years, the number of daily American newspapers has decreased slowly but steadily.  From 1,611 in 1990, the number fell to 1,387 in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available.  That is a decline of 14%.

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This breakdown of morning and evening titles suggest growth in morning papers.  In fact the higher numbers mostly represent evening-to-morning conversions or consolidations.  Launches of new dailies are extremely rare.

News Investment

Employment of full-time professional editorial staff peaked at 56,400 in 2000. It then fell 26.4% through 2009.

The newsroom census totals for 2010 will be released in mid-April.  Our estimate is that between 1,000 and 1,500 additional jobs will have been lost, taking the total loss to just under 30%.

The census, by the American Society of News Editors, also includes a breakout of minority employment. It grew immensely from 1,900 in 1978 to 7,400 in 2006, but has since fallen during the layoff years to 5,500 at the end of 2009.

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An ongoing PEJ analysis of the national news coverage indicates some differences between newspapers and the media overall.  Business, education and state and local government all receive a higher level of coverage in newspapers than from other news organizations.  Elections and politics, national affairs and disasters receive somewhat less.

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Demographics

The percentage of adults in all age groups who report that they read a newspaper yesterday has fallen steadily since 1999. Adults over the age of 65 are the most likely to be newspaper readers, and saw the smallest decline in readership: only 10 percentage points over the 11-year period.

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Frequency of daily newspaper readership rises steadily with level of education, although all categories are down from 1999.  The gap between the high and low has widened from six percentage points in 1999 to 15 in 2010, suggesting that the less educated are quicker to drop the newspaper habit.

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Higher levels of newspaper readership also correlate closely to higher income levels.

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Whites have the highest levels of daily newspaper readership, followed by African Americans.  Hispanics are least likely to read a newspaper, suggesting that English language fluency is likely a factor.

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  1. After our report was published, the Newspaper Association of America released its final tally and put the drop at 6.3%.  We had previously estimated 6.4%.