In their annual State of the News Media report, the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project found that while newspapers managed to increase their total circulation in the last year, print circulation is increasingly taking a backseat to digital:
Newspapers increased their total circulation by 3% daily and 1.6% Sunday, according to an analysis by the Newspaper Association of America’s John Murray. But that result is influenced by liberalized reporting rules by the Association for Audited Media and includes both paying visitors to digital platforms and distribution of Sunday insert packages to nonsubscribers.
Print now accounts for only 71.2% of daily circulation and 74.9% of Sunday, according to Murray. And Murray’s analysis of 15 of the largest newspapers shows that those papers now have just 54.9% of their total circulation in print.
Murray didn’t elaborate on the effect of including non-paid distribution in the circulation figures, but I think it’s safe to say that the reported gains would evaporate without them.
The low print circulation numbers aren’t all that surprising, considering the rapid growth of social media and other online platforms that report and deliver the news. But as Pew pointed out in their report, digital revenues aren’t growing fast enough to make up for the print advertising revenue losses, which continued their steep decline in 2012. That decline is expected to continue along the same lines when the 2013 advertising revenues figures are released in the near future.
As the digital revolution continues to erode the print newspaper business, the only ones likely to survive will be those backed by the almost unlimited funds of billionaires like Jeff Bezos, John W. Henry and Warren Buffet, who can sustain several years worth of losses and barely ding their fortunes. The only problem is that the number of struggling newspapers far outnumbers the billionaires willing to save them.