OK -- Oscar’s version was a lot pithier. But the paradox pretty well sums up the predicament faced by newspaper publishers, who not only must contend with declining print circulation and ad woes, but also face disappointing returns on the digital ad side, per the Pew Research State of the News Media Report.
According to Pew, U.S. newspaper publishers’ total advertising revenue sank 8% in 2015 compared to the prior year, with most of this decline due to continuing drops in print ads, which still make up 75% of total ad revenues, and fell 10% last year.
However, digital, long touted by publishers as the future of the industry, isn’t even close to making up for these drops: Digital advertising actually sank by 2% as well.
(Pew’s estimates for ad revenue are based on its analysis of results from seven large, publicly-traded newspaper publishers; Pew notes that the Newspaper Association of America stopped reporting official revenue figures for the industry back in 2013).
It’s true that digital advertising’s share of total revenues has increased steadily in recent years, from around 17% in 2011 to 25% in 2015 -- but as Pew points out, that’s mostly illusory, resulting from the steep decline in print ads.
The other trends documented by Pew are well-established, as print readership continues to fall, with overall weekday circulation down 7% and Sunday circulation down 4% in 2015.
This resulted from a 9% drop in print circulation, somewhat offset by a 2% increase in digital circulations, reflecting publishers’ continuing push to get consumers to pay for online news through digital subscriptions and paywalls.