U.S. Daily Newspaper Circulation Fell 8% In 2016

In 2016, total U.S. daily newspaper circulation — which combines print and digital — fell an estimated 8% to 35 million for weekday and 38 million for Sunday, according to the latest annual Pew Research Center study, released Thursday.

Those numbers mark the 28th consecutive year of declines, which were highest in print circulation. Weekday print circulation decreased 10%, while Sunday decreased 9%, the lowest levels since 1945.

Newspaper advertising revenue also decreased in 2016, compared to the year before. The total estimated newspaper ad revenue for 2016 was $18 billion, based on the Pew Research Center's analysis of financial statements for publicly-traded newspaper companies. This marks a 10% decrease from 2015.



Digital ads accounted for 29% of total newspapers advertising revenue in 2016, up from a quarter in 2015.

Circulation revenue was an estimated $11 billion, similar to the numbers in 2015. Perhaps this justifies many publishers moving to a “subscription-first model,” rather than relying solely on advertising revenue.

For example, The New York Times added more than 500,000 digital subscriptions in 2016 — a 47% year-over-year rise. The Wall Street Journal added more than 150,000 digital subscriptions, a 23% rise.

However, gains in circulation revenue are still not high enough to account for losses in ad revenue, a pattern many publishers have reported in recent quarter earnings reports.

Average circulation for the top 20 U.S. alt-weekly papers is just over 61,000. This is a 6% decline from 2015.

Pew says digital circulation is more difficult to gauge, but it projects the numbers have been roughly steady, with weekday down 1% and Sunday up 1%.

Pew has issued an annual report on the state of the U.S. news media industry since 2004. This year, instead of a single report, Pew is producing a series of digestible fact sheets to be rolled out a few at a time over the coming months.

Pew Research Center also released a study on cable news channels. It found more positive numbers compared to the newspaper industry.

One notable finding was combined prime-time average viewership for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) increased by 55% to 4.8 million viewers. Total revenue across these three channels was projected to increase by 19% in 2016, to a total of nearly $5 billion.

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