$1 won’t buy you much at Starbucks, but it’s the amount Tronc, formerly Tribune Publishing, paid for one of New York City’s two dominant tabloids. (The second is the New York Post.) The one-digit price tag for New York’s Daily News is brutal shorthand for the steep decline of the newspaper industry over the last decade, including the iconic tabloids, now shadows of their former selves.
Even more remarkable than the price tag is that many media watchers — far from classifying Tronc’s acquisition as a steal, or at least a savvy expansion at a rock-bottom price – wondered whether the deal was a strategic misstep.
In fact, Tronc’s own Chicago Tribune characterized the acquisition, which also included the assumption of $30 million in liabilities, as a “stunning and bold bet on the future of newspapers.”
For his part, former Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman is relieved to have divested the loss-making newspaper, after years of trying. It seems like it’s getting hard to give newspapers away.
A few figures convey the disastrous descent of the tabloids over the last decade.
In the six-month period ending March 2007, the Daily News had an average weekday circulation of 718,174, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, now known as the Alliance for Audited Media. In AAM’s latest figures, the daily circ figure was down to 274,816.
Although media-measurement methodology has evolved somewhat since then, in part to reflect the rise of the Web, apps and other developments, the overall trend is devastatingly clear. No business can experience a 62% contraction in its core product and customer base in 10 years and remain unchanged. (The latter figure includes both print, digital replica, and digital non-replica circ.)
Of note, the Daily News’ arch rival is faring only slightly better. Over the same period, the New York Post saw its average weekday circ plunge from 724,748 to 433,606, for a 40% drop – a somewhat more modest contraction, which can only be termed a relative success at best.
Both tabloids have made some headway building their Web audiences, in part, by reaching readers beyond their traditional print distribution range. The Daily News boasts 24 million unique visitors per month, while the NY Post claims 40.2 million across its full network of online properties.
But these impressive readership figures only serve to highlight the difficulty facing the tabloids, like the rest of the newspaper industry. All struggle to monetize their digital audiences at levels anywhere near their old print business.
At the same time, the ongoing decline in print ad revenue leaves publishers with few attractive options. Last year, NYP owner Rupert Murdoch confided to Fortune: “I would think it might be quite likely in 10 years” for the NYP to fold its print publication altogether.