Newspaper Advertising Revenue Drops Like a Rock

Advertising revenue for newspapers, adjusted for inflation, has dropped to 1950s levels. After rising for over 50 years, newspaper ad revenue dropped radically in 2003 and then for good in about 2005. Online classifieds and blogs put the nail in its coffin. Online communities that people can join became more interesting and were free.

Suffice it to say the news business is in a big transition. The dust hasn’t settled yet by any means, but from a PR perspective, companies need to understand that the old yardstick of counting column inches of coverage is not so relevant—you want your news online.

Let’s take a closer look at how newspaper trends have shifted, and what it means for advertising revenue.

Circulation of Printed News in the United States Has Plummeted

Pew Research conducted a thorough analysis of the history of daily, weekly, and Sunday newspapers in the United States.

You can see from the graph above that the total circulation has dropped significantly over the past 20 years—and there’s still a downward trajectory.

As a Result, Newspaper Advertising Revenue Has Dropped With It

The same study from Pew Research looked at different revenue streams for newspaper companies. As circulation drops, we expect circulation revenue to decline at an equal pace.

But upon closer inspection, it’s the advertising revenue that’s truly taken the biggest hit.

This graph shows that circulation revenue actually held steady, and rose in times when fewer newspapers were being distributed. How is that possible?

It’s simple. Prices were adjusted accordingly. So while fewer people were receiving daily or weekly newspapers, the people who continued to receive them paid more.

But this graph shows that advertising dollars have always been the primary source of revenue for newspapers.

That is until recently. As the advertising dollars fell off a cliff, revenue from circulation has actually surpassed it. This is the first time we’ve seen this happen in more than 60 years, which is devastating for newspapers.

That’s why we’ve seen so many newspapers forced to close their doors over the years.

Examples of Closed Newspapers That Went Out of Business

  • Albuquerque Tribune
  • Arcadia News-Leader
  • Baltimore Examiner
  • Blue Springs Journal
  • Cincinnati Post
  • Contra-Costa Times
  • Denver Daily News
  • Galesville Republican
  • Halifax Daily News
  • Honolulu Advertiser
  • Johnson County Sun
  • Kentucky Post
  • King County Journal
  • National Speed Sport News
  • Nebo Reporter
  • New York Press
  • Oakland Tribune
  • Rocky Mountain News
  • San Juan Star
  • South Idaho Press
  • Spanish Fork Press
  • Sparta News-Plaindealer
  • Springville Herald
  • St. Louis Globe-Democrat
  • Sylvania Herald
  • The Belton Star Herald
  • The Midcoast Beacon
  • The North Florida Herald
  • The Observer
  • Tucson Citizen
  • Two Rivers Tribune
  • Union City Register-Tribune
  • Vail Mountaineer
  • Whitehall Times

Advertising Revenue From Digital News Sources is on the Rise

With fewer people getting news delivered to their door, there’s been a significant uptick in ad revenue from digital sources. Here’s what Pew Research found:

Compared to the other two graphs we’ve seen so far, this third one is the only trend line that’s clearly following an upward trajectory.

Who is getting the lion’s share of this revenue? Let’s see which sites are getting the most traffic.

15 Most Popular News Sites in the US

It’s no surprise that the majority of news consumption in recent years has gone digital. According to the latest data from Statista, here are the top 15 news websites in the United States based on monthly visits:

1.         New York Times | 464,400,000

2.         CNN | 374,700,000

3.         Fox News | 262,100,000

4.         MSN | 259,200,000

5.         People | 145,900,000

6.         Yahoo Finance | 145,100,000

7.         USA Today | 140,800,000

8.         Google News | 134,100,000

9.         NY Post | 127,500,000

10.      Daily Mail | 116,300,000

11.       Washington Post | 116,000,000

12.       BBC News | 104,600,000

13.       Yahoo News | 93,000,000

14.      CNBC | 88,000,000

15.      Forbes | 77,600,000

Final Thoughts

Newspaper losses open a door for those willing to adapt. Newspapers and other print media are gunning it with online editions. If you have a real content marketing plan and a trending story to tell, you can ride the new wave. Rather than spending so much in print ads and in traditional PR, website owners must nurture relationships with reporters, editors, and publishers through blogs and other social media. TV and print ad revenues have seen significant declines, though some niche magazines and local cable are doing reasonably well despite cutbacks. We live in a brave new world and an ever-shifting landscape.

Do you still read newspapers?

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