Amid the generally catastrophic tenor of most news about the newspaper business, one piece of good news stands out: Subscriber churn has decreased over the last decade, from 54.5% in 2000 to 31.8% in 2008.
The decrease in turnover holds out the hope that after losing a large number of readers to the Internet, print newspaper circulations may stabilize around a core group of committed readers.
The findings, released by the Newspaper Association of America in the 2009 edition of its "Circulation Facts, Figures and Logics" survey, indicate that "publishers have focused their efforts on retaining subscribers in key market segments that translate into maximum advertiser value," according to NAA President and CEO John Sturm.
This also translates into stronger circulation revenues, as the average price of seven-day home delivery rose from $3.37 in 2006 to $3.66 in 2008.
Newspaper publishers have sought to bolster circulation revenues to offset steep, continuing declines in advertising revenue. In the first half of 2009, total ad revenues amounted to just under $13.44 billion, down 43% from $23.48 billion in the first half of 2006.
The declining churn rate among subscribers seems to fit with the conventional wisdom that there is are readers who will stay loyal to print. This is clearly good news for newspapers, which have seen overall circulations fall steadily over the last decade.
According to a MediaPost analysis of figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, total weekday circulation for 100 leading newspapers fell from 29,992,627 in the six-month period ending March 2003 to 24,596,042 in the six-month period ending March 2009 -- a drop of 18%.
However, these core print readers consist mostly of older people who have become accustomed to the print product. As the demographic wave moves forward, this cohort will naturally shrink, meaning that newspapers still face a continuing long-term decline in readership -- just at a slower pace than over the last decade.