Newspaper Circulation Contines to Nosedive

The headline alone is nothing that will surprise people, especially those in the online marketing industry. In fact, watching the decline and fall of the newspaper industry is some kind of guilty pleasure that everyone seems to relish. Since there are jobs and things at stake maybe that’s not such a good position to take but it is what it is, as they say.

The continued circulation declines however, are real news in the sense that it truly signifies the shift in how people get their information these days. Because of our ‘go-go’ lifestyle most people can’t be bothered with the print version of a newspaper. Commutes in cars make it harder to read a paper (notice I didn’t say impossible since there are still morons that think driving and reading the paper is simply multi-tasking). There is less time in the morning to ‘relax’ while reading the paper. Life is just different. Maybe not better but certainly different.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s latest figures confirms this change as 10 of the top 25 newspapers experienced a decline of more than 10% in the six months ending March 31, 2010. The Wall Street Journal reports

Newspaper circulation has been ebbing slowly for decades, but the pace has picked up of late, as more readers turn to a range of digital media such as the Web, smartphones and the iPad. Some publishers also have drastically curtailed the distribution of their papers, while others have abandoned print partially or altogether for the Internet.

Among the country’s largest papers, the sharpest drops were at the San Francisco Chronicle, owned by Hearst Corp., where circulation fell nearly 23%, and the Dallas Morning News, owned by A.H. Belo Corp. Its circulation declined 21%.

The one bright spot is actually the Wall Street Journal itself as it retains the top circulation spot it took last year from USA Today. Just that fact alone is enough to make one think. The Wall Street Journal is read by the business community and in particular business leadership. That leadership tends to be older because of experience levels. As a result, when will that group finally “age out” and the Journal’s numbers will also slide as a result of demographics more than anything else?

The plight of USA Today is actually tied to business as well. It is tied to the economy though not because the readers are the business barons like the WSJ but rather the road warrior that gets their USA Today in the hotels and motels of the workweek business traveler. Business travel is down so the USA Today circulation is down as well. Down a whopping 14%.

So the discussion turns to paywalls and what is next for the newspaper industries. These declines have been piling up for the last three six month periods. Obviously, this is not a sustainable path.

Will Rupert Murdoch’s cry for paid content be heard? Does anyone take into account that the success of the Wall Street Journal is that business people require the information it gives AND have the resources to keep paying for the information? WSJ readers are nothing like the common reader. Also, if you live in a high-tech region like San Francisco wouldn’t it make sense that the decline in circulation will be accelerated?

Honestly, these results don’t uncover anything we haven’t known for a while now. What is becoming evident though is that time is truly running out for newspapers to “you know what” or get off the pot. If they continue on this path the end is already known. Does anyone really want to see that ending? I know I don’t.

  • http://www.brandonconnell.com Brandon Connell

    You are right that it’s not news. I believe newspapers will end up being IPads with streaming live news. That’s where it is headed, as people get their news from Yahoo homepage and blogs now.