Commentary

Pandemic Hastens Drop In Print Circulation For U.S. Newspapers

The pandemic led to a significant drop in print circulation for the biggest U.S. newspapers as fewer consumers bought publications at newsstands, according to a Press Gazettestudy of Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data. The analysis confirms other reports of a broad shift to digital readership among homebound consumers.
The top 25 papers saw a 20% decline in weekday print circulation from a year earlier to 3.4 million in the first quarter of 2021. The drop was greater than the 11% decline to 4.2 million by the end of the first quarter of 2020, a period when the World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 had become a pandemic.
USA Today, the national newspaper published by Gannett, experienced a 62% decline since the beginning of the health crisis to end the study period at 183,000. Its print circulation suffered from the steep declines in travel and stays at hotels that provide free copies to guests.
Amid the shift in news consumption habits, USA Today in July added a paywall to its website. Gannett has a broader goal of reaching 10 million digital subscribers among its newspaper holdings, which include dozens of regional news outlets, in the next few years.
The New York Times overtook USA Today to become the second-biggest print newspaper, though its average weekday circulation slipped by 12% to 363,000 since March last year, the Press Gazette reported.
News Corp.’s The Wall Street Journal kept its No. 1 spot with the biggest print circulation, though it saw a decline of 21% since the beginning of the pandemic to 800,000 by the first quarter of this year. The decline in business travel also affected the paper’s newsstand sales.
Amid the decline in print circulation, the NYT continued to expand its digital subscriber base as readers not only signed up for its news product, but also for its cooking and games sections. Online subscriptions expanded by 26% from a year earlier to 7.13 million by the end of June, putting the paper in range to reach its goal of 10 million digital subscriptions by 2025.

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