U.S. Newspaper Decline Continues
While lots of people in town are wondering whether The Albuquerque Tribune, because of its worse-than-anemic 9,900 paid circulation, will be killed of by the E.W. Scripps Co., few have talked about the circulation slide at Albuquerque’s morning newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal.
The paper’s circulation took a major hit in the six month reporting period that ended September 30th. According to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the firm that tracks newspaper and magazine circulation, the Journal’s Monday-Friday circulation took a 3.8 percent hit, falling from 105,966 to 101,981. It’s even worse on Sundays, where circulation fell by 4.5 percent, from 146,931 to 140,395. The Journal’s Saturday circulation fell as well, dropping 3 percent from 111,951 to 108,658.
That circulation decline probably comes as no surprise to people who believe the Journal has always been an amateurish publication that often launches editor-driven smear jobs against people they don't like. And it's no doubt welcome news to those who fear a world without The Tribune to balance and correct what the Journal gets wrong, botches and smears.
The Journal isn’t alone in suffering a big circulation decline; daily newspaper circulation has been falling steadily since 1990. In the last reporting period, major dailies in the U.S. suffered a 2.6 percent average circulation decline. The Wall Street Journal was down 1.53 percent, the New York Times fell by 4.51 percent, and the Dallas Morning News dropped a whopping 7.68 percent.
The Tribune's circulation, which has been falling for more than 15 years, dropped to below 10,000.
In many ways, newspapers, meaning the paper product, are obsolete. They certainly are when it comes to delivering breaking news. They can’t compete with TV, radio and the Internet. When you read the Albuquerque Journal in the morning, you’re getting 18-hour-old news. Who wants that?
Papers have web sites, but those sites can’t generate the kinds of revenue that lumps of paper filled with classified ads can. And, newspapers were beaten to the punch by web entrepreneurs (Craig’s List) in trying to generate classified ad revenue on the Internet.
Circulation is important because papers base their advertising rates on the number of copies sold. Sell fewer copies and advertisers will want reduced ad rates. That means fewer profits, and thus fewer staffers, for papers. Don't cry, though, for newspaper companies or their investors. Newspapers have always had double-digit profit margins, often in the 20 to 30 percent range, and they remain profitable.
The Great Newspaper Circulation decline began in 1980, according to Journalism.org reports, when there were 1,745 daily papers in the U.S. In 2002, there were 1,457 dailies left, a 17 percent drop. Daily circulation peaked at more than 60 million in 1980. By 2002 it had fallen to 55 million.
Nowhere has the situation been grimmer than with afternoon papers. In the mid-1970s, afternoon daily circulation was 33 million. By 2004 it had dropped to less than seven million.
The really bad news for newspapers is that their market penetration has been steadily declining. In 1950, 123 percent of U.S. households bought newspapers, in other words, there were 1.23 papers sold per household. By 1990, only 67 percent of U.S. households bought a paper. By 2000 it had dropped to 53 percent.
People still crave news; they just don’t see newspapers as the way to get it.