Monday, March 3, 2014

Print readership for newspapers - Half-full, or Half-empty?

A recent study by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) trade group reported significant growth in digital and mobile readership, yet also proudly proclaimed that 54% of newspaper audiences only read their local newspaper through its print edition.  Overall, the NAA reported circulation gains of about 3%. Also reported was the fact that print circulation has fallen to 71% of total circulation (75% of Sunday circulation), down from 85% the year before (a 20% decline).  The size of this year's shift, it should be noted, may be coming from a change in AAM reporting, which lets publishers decide whether subscribers of both the digital and print editions get counted as print subscribers or as digital subscribers.  With most ad revenue growth in digital, they may be choosing to emphasize those numbers.

One interpretation of the more than half of circulation remaining print-only is that there's still a significant role for print editions.  Another is that almost half of readers don't ever access their local newspaper digitally.  Newspaper readership is not only in general decline - it seems to be splintering, with older readers sticking with print, and younger readers shifting their news consumption to online and mobile sources.  The NAA report said that 30% of readers use a combination of print and digital sources, and 15% only use digital.  According to the NAA report,
"a closer examination of the elements, supported by readership data, does confirm a steady transition to digital reach among newspapers and a healthy print readership base for readers and advertisers."

A deeper look showed an industry in widespread decline.  Almost all of the circulation gains were by the five largest U.S. newspapers, and predominantly from increased digital circulation.  A breakdown by circulation showed aggregate circulation losses in all other segments.  The report notes that most smaller papers are posting print circulation declines smaller than seen in some of the biggest urban dailies.  Smaller, perhaps, but declines nonetheless.

From an economic perspective, it's clear that there is a strong and rapidly growing digital market for news.  News organizations, whether newspapers, broadcast networks and local stations, magazines and radio would be well-served to develop easily-accessible online delivery systems for the news they produce (mobile apps in particular).  The audience is going there, and frankly, the distribution costs are minimal compared to traditional media.  However, there remains a sizable portion of news consumers who remain loyal to traditional media formats - particularly for their traditional local news sources.  Local news organizations need to still consider that audience segment before going all-digital.

Source - NAA: 'Print only' still more than half of newspaper audience even as digital grows, Poynter

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