MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA
Correction (June 2, 2017): An earlier version of this fact sheet misstated the source for newsroom employment data in text. The text has been updated to reflect the correct source. The source was correct in the accompanying chart, which has not been changed.
Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hard hit as more and more Americans consume news digitally. The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the early 2000s, even as website audience traffic has grown for many. Meanwhile, alt-weekly papers have also seen their circulation drop. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about U.S. newspapers below.
The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2016 was 35 million for weekday and 38 million for Sunday, both of which fell 8% over the previous year. Declines were highest in print circulation: Weekday print circulation decreased 10% and Sunday circulation decreased 9%. (Note that in this fact sheet, and in the chart above, data through 2014 are from Editor & Publisher, which were published on the website of the News Media Alliance (NMA), known at the time as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Since then, as the NMA/NAA no longer supplies these data, the Center determined the year-over-year change in total circulation for those daily U.S. newspapers that report to the Alliance for Audited Media and meet certain criteria, as detailed in the note of the chart above. This percentage change was then applied to the total circulation from the prior year. Thus the use of the term “estimated total circulation.”)
Digital circulation is more difficult to gauge. Three of the highest-circulation daily papers in the U.S. – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – have in recent years not fully reported their digital circulation to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), the group that audits the circulation figures of many of the largest North American newspapers and other publications. Two of these papers report such digital circulation elsewhere: The New York Times in their financial statements and The Wall Street Journal in reports available on the Dow Jones website. (The Washington Post does not fully report digital circulation in any forum.) But because they may not be counted under the same rules used by AAM, these independently produced figures cannot easily be merged with the Alliance data.
Taking these complexities into account, using the AAM data, digital circulation in 2016 was projected to have been roughly steady, with weekday down 1% and Sunday up 1%. If the independently produced figures from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were included in both 2015 and 2016, however, rather than remaining steady, weekday digital circulation would have risen by 11%.
This would also change the overall picture for combined print and digital circulation. Including the digital boost driven by these two large, national brands would still result in an overall drop in circulation year to year but a smaller one: Overall weekday circulation would have fallen by 4% in 2016 rather than 8%.
Gauging digital audience for the entire newspaper industry is difficult since many daily newspapers do not receive enough traffic to their websites to be measured by comScore, the data source relied on here. Thus, the figures offered above reflect the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers based on circulation. In the fourth quarter of 2016, there was an average of roughly 11.7 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers. This is a 21% increase from 2015, similar to the 18% rise from 2014-2015. (The list of top 50 papers is based on Sunday circulation but also includes The Wall Street Journal, which does not have any Sunday circulation; for more details, see our methodology.)
Average minutes per visit for the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, is about two and a half minutes. This decreased just slightly, falling 5% from 2015.
Beyond daily newspapers, many U.S. cities have what are known as “alt-weekly” papers – weekly newspapers, generally distributed for free, which put a heavy focus on arts and culture. Average circulation for the top 20 U.S. alt-weekly papers is just over 61,000, a 6% decline from 2015.
Turning back to the newspaper industry as a whole, the total estimated newspaper industry advertising revenue for 2016 was $18 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This decreased 10% from 2015. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11 billion, which is roughly on par with 2015 (rise of 0.4%).
In the chart above, data through 2012 come from the trade group formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), now known as the News Media Alliance (NMA). Data from 2013 onward is based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements from publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies, which now number seven and account for around a quarter of all U.S. daily newspapers, from large national papers to mid-size metro dailies to local papers. For each year through 2012, the year-over-year percentage change in advertising and circulation revenue for these companies is calculated and then applied to the previous year’s revenue totals as reported by the NMA/NAA. In testing this method, changes from 2004-2012 generally matched those as reported by the NMA/NAA; for more details, see our 2016 report.
Digital advertising accounted for 29% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2016, based on this same analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. This is up from a quarter in 2015 and 17% in 2011.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), in 2015 (the last year available) 41,400 people worked as reporters or editors in the newspaper industry, down 4% from 2014 and 37% from 2004.
In previous years, data came from an annual audit of newsroom employment performed by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). As of 2016, ASNE stopped reporting the total number of employees (instead reporting a percentage change in employment). As such, newsroom employment figures are now based on OES data.
Find out more
This fact sheet was compiled by Michael Barthel, who is a research associate focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.
Read the methodology.
Find more in-depth explorations of U.S. newspapers by following the link below.
Despite subscription surges for largest U.S. newspapers, circulation and revenue fall for industry overall June 1, 2017
For election news, young people turned to some national papers more than their elders Feb. 17, 2017
Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their Main Source for Election News Jan. 18, 2017
The Modern News Consumer July 7, 2016
Total estimated circulation for U.S. daily newspapers
|Year||Weekday||Sunday||Weekday (estimated)||Sunday (estimated)|
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Newspaper website unique visitors
|Year||Average monthly unique visitors|
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Newspaper website minutes per visit
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Alt-weekly newspaper average circulation
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Newspaper industry estimated advertising and circulation revenue
|Year||Advertising||Circulation||Advertising (estimated)||Circulation (estimated)|
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Percentage of newspaper advertising revenue coming from digital
|Year||Advertising from digital|
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Newspaper newsroom employment
Pew Research Center
The newspaper industry was, in many ways, was the news sector hit first and hardest by the advent of the digital age. As readers began to move online, papers were still producing strong profit margins with the vast majority of revenues tied to their legacy product. So, for the newspaper industry—culturally more tied to content creation than to engineering, change came very slowly—if at all. Within a few years, the industry found itself far behind the technology giants—and behind their readers’ changing news habits—in shaping the future of news. Since then, the pace of change has only accelerated. . While the industry has finally begun to experiment with new revenue streams as well as new ways of creating content and engaging with audiences, the numbers are far from reassuring.
Shrinking Ad Revenue
Total advertising revenue for the newspaper industrywas down 6.8% for the year in 2012. That was led by declines on the print side for the seventh consecutive year, and not just by a little. Print ad revenue dropped 8.5%, or $1.8 billion, even as the economy had seen slow improvement. Print advertising is now just 41% of what it was in 2006.
Digital ad revenue, meanwhile, has grown at only anemic rates that last two years (up 3.8% in 2012) and currently accounts for only 15% of all newspaper ad revenue. Online ad growth, then, is far from making up for print losses. Indeed in 2012, for every digital ad dollar gained, 15 ad dollars were lost in print. That is worse than the 2011 ratio of 10 print ad dollars lost for every one ad dollar gained in digital.
Capturing Digital Ad Dollars Looks Harder the Ever For News
Two developing ad revenue areas that seemed to hold promise for news even a year ago may already be moving out of reach. Overall mobile ad revenue is growing rapidly – 80% in 2012 – but as with digital ad revenue overall, it may be a bust for the news industry as technology giants like Google and Facebook move in to harvest that money. Fully 72% of mobile display ad revenue now goes to six companies—none of which are news producing organizations. Facebook didn’t even operate in the mobile realm until the summer of 2012, but already mobile accounts for 30% of its ad revenue. And, Google alone is now the ad leader in search, display and mobile.
Local digital advertising, a critical ad segment for news, is also growing— at 22% in 2012, according to Borrell Associates. But two major trends may be pushing that revenue out of the hands of local news organizations. One is the more sophisticated geo-targeting by major national ad networks, which appeals to national brands like WalMart. In addition, Google, Facebook and other large players are improving their ability to sell ad space to truly local advertisers.
Circulation revenue improved somewhat in 2012, up 4.6% for both weekday and Sunday editions, led by both higher newsstand prices and broader adoption of digital pay plans. One emphasis at many papers has been to reinvest in print and particularly in the Sunday edition of the paper. The circulation revenue gains are starting to balance out what has been the decades-long heavy reliance on advertising in the newspaper industry. But at this point, that rebalancing is more likely a reflection of the decline in ad revenue than strong growth in circulation.
In the last year, newspapers—keenly aware of the shortfalls in advertising dollars– began experimenting with new ways of financially supporting their operations. By 2013, more than 450 had adopted or were in the process of adopting digital pay plans. The Washington Post, long a holdout, joined the movement in June 2013. There are some early signs of revenue gain, but the numbers are still small for most.
Reporting Power at Newspapers Eroded Further in 2012
Meanwhile, as newspaper budgets have shrunk, newsroom staff declined as well. Full-time professional editorial jobs at daily newspapers declined another 6.4% for the year, leaving the industry below 40,000 for the first time since the American Society of News Editors began taking the newsroom census back in 1978.
Thus far this year, the cuts have continued. In July, The Cleveland Plain Dealer announced that it was cutting a third of its staff, the Oregonian announced in June that it was cutting 45 newsroom staff and the Chicago Sun-Times let its entire 28-person photo staff go in May.
It is too early to tell what the sale of The Post to Bezos will mean for the staffing of The Washington Post or for the journalism it produces. Bezos has asked both publisher Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marty Baron to stay on and they have agreed. Whatever business strategy emerges from the new owner in the future, readers are most likely to focus above all on the quality of The Post’s editorial product—in whatever form.