The mixed fortune of American newspapers


Our colleagues at The Economist have an informative infographic on the rise and fall of American newspaper circulation. As the video shows, some newspapers have done a better job at growing their circulation than others. Publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have managed to increase their circulations (which includes both digital and print subscriptions) over the past ten years. Others like USA Today and the Los Angeles Times have seen their numbers plummet.  

Contrary to the dire predictions that digital technologies are killing readers’ appetites for news, both the Journal and the New York Times have benefitted from digital subscriptions. In fact, the New York Times now has more digital subscriptions than print-only subscriptions, and one-third of the Journal’s readers are digital subscribers. It seems that readers are willing to pay for certain types of online content. But the type of content matters. As The Economist points out, one reason for the Journal’s success is that people are still willing to pay for high-quality financial news. The same can not be said for other types of publications, including celebrity rags and local newpapers

While digital subscriptions have been a boon to some publications, advertising dollars are down across the board. As this chart from Alan Mutter, who writes the “Newsosaur” blog, illustrates, print ad dollars have fallen dramatically and are nowhere close to being replaced by digital ad dollars. 

So while the New York Times‘ digital footprint continues to grow, the increased circulation revenue has yet to offset the loss of advertising revenue. If a venerable publication with impressive circulation numbers can’t yet combat the loss of ad dollars, the future for other papers looks mixed.