Newspaper Circulation Struggles Upward While Ad Revenue Declines

According to new Pew Research Center analysis, some major U.S. newspapers reported a sharp jump in digital subscriptions following last year’s presidential election, boosting overall circulation totals.

The newspaper industry as a whole, however, faced ongoing challenges in 2016.

Some major publications showed signs of life, however, but not enough to translate into circulation growth for the industry overall, says the report:

  • 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, according to audited statements produced by Dow Jones
  • Chicago Tribune added about 100,000 in weekday digital circulation, a 76% year-over-year gain, according to its filings with the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM),

A Pew Research Center analysis of data from AAM, though, shows that total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers – both print and digital – fell 8% in 2016, the 28th consecutive year of declines, says the report. (Sunday circulation also fell 8%.)

The overall decline includes a 10% decrease in weekday print circulation (9% for Sundays) and a 1% decline in weekday digital circulation (1% rise for Sundays). Total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers fell to 35 million, while total Sunday circulation declined to 38 million – the lowest levels since 1945.

This overall decline in circulation coincided with a double-digit decline in advertising revenue for the industry as a whole, says the report.

A separate Pew Research Center analysis, based on the year-end financial statements of seven publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies, suggests that advertising revenue across the industry declined even more sharply than in recent years: a 10% decline, which outpaces the 8% decline in 2015.

By contrast, circulation revenue has been steady over the past few years, rising from $10.4 billion in 2012 to $10.9 billion in both 2015 and 2016. This is a small bright spot for the industry, and comes as some publishers are pursuing a “subscription-first model” by focusing on growing the number of subscribers rather than retaining advertising revenue.

Still, gains in circulation revenue have not been nearly enough to make up for losses in advertising revenue, a pattern that holds true even at the large newspapers and major chains, concludes the report.

For additional information from PewResearch, please visit here.



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