Newspaper Revenues Plunge 28% in Q1, Online Falling Too

The numbers are in, and they are terrible: total newspaper revenues plunged 28.3% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2009 -- from $9.2 billion to $6.6 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America. This meteoric drop reflects a 29.7% drop in print revenues, which tumbled from $8.4 billion to $5.9 billion, as well as a 13.4% drop in online revenues, which sank from $804 million to $696 million.

In light of the latest figures, there can no longer be any doubt that -- at least at the level of big regional dailies and national newspapers -- the newspaper business is truly in a state of collapse, beset with double-digit revenue declines across the board. As in previous quarters, the retreat was led by classified revenues, which fell 42% from $2.5 billion in 2008 to under $1.5 billion in the first quarter of this year. Automotive was down 43.4%, to $333 million, real estate plunged 45.5% to $337 million, and employment cratered 67.4% to $205.4 million.

Continuing a trend that began in 2005, both national and retail (local) ad revenues also experienced double-digit drops: national tumbled 26% to $1.13 billion, and retail almost matched it with a 23.7% drop to $3.33 billion.

The year-over-year drop in online revenues -- while the smallest in both dollar and percentage terms -- is in some ways the most troubling, as newspaper publishers had long pinned their hopes for future growth and viability on Internet advertising revenues. However, the bulk of their growth in the earlier years of this decade was based on upsells from print classifieds; with the volume of print classifieds shrinking dramatically now, there are simply fewer opportunities for these online upsells.

There's no question that the implosion of the newspaper industry is at least in part a reflection of broader economic woes. But it's just as clear that the medium is suffering a long-term decline, quite independent of macroeconomic cycles, due to competition from the Internet: print revenues began sinking in the second quarter of 2006, over a year before the recession began (government economists pegged the official beginning of the recession in the fourth quarter of 2007).

In fact, this is the twelfth straight quarter to see print revenues fall, and the fifth straight quarter where they were joined by online. Since the first quarter of 2006, when they topped $10.5 billion, print revenues have fallen 44%, or about $4.6 billion.

Newspaper print ad revenue chart

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