Code red for US newspapers
Bleak. Black. Bleeding awful. On the face of it, the latest newspaper circulation figures from the US make for woeful reading if you work in the print news media. According to Editor & Publisher, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reported that, for the 379 newspapers filing with the organisation, average daily circulation plunged 10.6% year-on-year. Sunday circulation for 562 reporting newspapers was down 7.4%.
When you drill down to results for some of the best-known American newspapers, the picture looks even worse. The San Francisco Chronicle lost more than a quarter of its daily sales, down 25.8% to 251,782. The Boston Globe’s daily circulation decreased 18.4% to 264,105.
By any standard, these are horrendous numbers, although, as the E&P report points out, there are some mitigating factors:
“There are several reasons as to why circulation keeps dropping, aside from former readers who have kicked the print edition to the curb. Publishers have been purposely pulling back on certain types of circulation, including hotel, employee and third-party sponsored copies. No longer are they distributing newspapers to the outer reaches of the core market. The cost of delivery and the cost of materials have forced publishers to scale back (…) Several major newspapers across the country have aggressively hiked prices of single-copy and home-delivered papers in search of circulation revenue and a renewed focus on loyal readers. Circulation is guaranteed to go down as prices go up, but publishers have opted to wring more revenue from readers as advertisers keep their coffers closed.”
So, in the US, newspapers are reducing bulks and freebies, pushing up cover prices and focusing on their core markets. Fair enough, although even if you strip all that out, the numbers are still scary.
What lessons, if any, can be learned from the American experience for those of us plying our trade elsewhere? Well, it’s always worth pointing out that the US model doesn’t automatically translate to other countries. There are certain local peculiarities – longstanding metropolitan monopolies, over-leveraged companies – which don’t always pertain in other parts of the world. However, the most fundamental underlying trends – declining print circulation, readers and advertisers migrating to the internet – are pretty much universal in the industrialised world (developing countries are another story). In Ireland, these movements have been slower, but they’re still there. One thing’s certain: there will be blood.