The plight of newspapers in a single chart
The reason the above chart starts in 2005 is because that is the year that advertising at the nation’s newspapers hit an all-time high of $49.4 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America, an industry-funded trade group.
That’s right. Fully a decade after us mere mortals became aware of the Internet, ad sales continued to surge at newspapers, leading publishers to believe this upstart medium was no challenge to the power, prestige and enviable profitability of their brands.
At the same time newspaper revenues peaked in 2005, digital advertising hit a record of its own, surging to $12.5 billion after literally coming from nowhere in a decade, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, a trade group.
In the intervening years, as we all know, audiences and advertisers increasingly shifted their attention and patronage to the digital media, abetted by improving connectivity, generally falling costs and, most recently, a host of addictive mobile devices.
So, it probably comes as no surprise that digital advertising surged 17% to a record $42.8 billion in 2013, surpassing for the first time the $40.1 billion spent on broadcast television advertising.
At the same time digital ad sales advance to a new record, print and digital ad sales at newspapers fell 7.1% in 2013 to a bit under $21 billion, according to figures released on Good Friday by the NAA.
As detailed here, print advertising at newspapers last year fell 8.6% to $17.3 billion, representing the lowest level since 1982. Thus, the volume of print advertising, the primary revenue stream for the nation’s newspapers, is barely a third today of the record $47.4 billion in print ads sold in 2005.
Almost as alarming to behold as the ongoing decline in print advertising is how little digital advertising grew at newspapers in the last 12 months in spite of the professed commitment of most publishers to pivot vigorously to the new medium. Digital advertising rose a mere 1.5% to $3.4 billion in 2013 at the same time that digital sales surged 17% across all digital categories in the United States.
The weakness in digital ad sales last year is consistent with the industry’s performance in the last decade.
Between 2003 and 2013, digital ad revenue at newspapers grew from $1.2 billion to $3.4 billion, making for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of a seemingly respectable 28%. In the same period, however, industry-wide digital advertising spurted from $7.3 billion in 2003 to $42.8 billion in 2013, representing a CAGR of 59%.
In other words, the over-all digital ad market has expanded twice as fast as the category has grown at newspapers. And here’s why that matters:
Back in 2003, newspapers had a 14% share of the national digital advertising market. In 2013, they had barely 8% of the market.
At a time that growth and scale mean everything to the success of a digital publishing enterprise, the ongoing inability of newspapers to compete effectively in this emerging marketplace may be an even bigger problem than the traumatic collapse in print advertising that they have suffered over the last eight years.
FOOTNOTE: Some sharp-eyed readers inquired as to why I say that newspaper print and digital advertising totaled $21 billion in 2013 vs. the $23.6 billion figure used by the NAA in its annual revenue report. The reason I used $21 billion is that the number maps exactly to the way newspaper ad revenues have been reported by the industry for the last decade. The additional revenue cited in the NAA report includes the sale of marketing services and revenues from niche publications. While publishers are benefitting from the addition of these new revenue streams, the apples-to-apples comparison of current and historical performance discussed in this post required the new revenue streams to be left out of the mix.