Monday, October 27, 2008


Sorry about the 5-day gap. Here are some random items not exactly about News after Newspapers, but certainly further indication that we may soon be in an After Newspapers world.

The "September FAS-FAX" numbers are out—that's the self-reported circulation figures of U.S. newspapers for the 6 months ending September 30, versus the same period a year ago. Guess what—they are down: 4.6% on weekdays and 4.8% on Sundays. The rationalization this time is that lots of papers are cutting out unprofitable—that is, not actually real—circulation. This includes gimmickry like Newspapers in Education, "third-party" promotions in which businesses pay for thousands of giveaway copies, "bonus days" in which papers are delivered on, say, Monday through Friday to people who only paid for Saturday-Sunday delivery, and on and on. Since all this nonsense has been going on for years, the current drop really represents years of real, core, paid circulation decline that's becoming visible all at once.

The industry claims that some of the decline represents readers switching to reading their content online, and that the overall audience is growing. But is it? ABC's list of the top 25 "tier 1" papers showing total audience growth (print plus online) is not that impressive—only 4 are in double digits, and below these 25 there must be a number in that "tier" with an overall decline. We can't tell, because the ABC has a membership firewall around the numbers.

Arthur Sulzberger admits that the New York Times might not be around forever. (And another report here.) Instead, says Pinch, "we must be where people want us to be for their information." I'm surprised this one didn't get more play, really—the publisher of the greatest newspaper in the world says, in effect, that he likes print but doesn't really care if it stays or goes. I have to say that of all American metros, the Times is really the most web-centric today, and stands a chance of making the post-print transition. Meanwhile, however, the Times reported a whopping 51 percent drop in earnings (but this beat Street estimates, somehow). At Gannett, the drop was only 32 percent.

Folks in New Jersey must still like the printed Times better than the bleeding Star Ledger, which is laying off 40 percent of its news staff. Forty percent! This is supposed to save the operation. Don't bet on it. Around the country, Paper Cuts has tallied over 12,000 newspaper layoffs and buyouts, and that's just the ones reported—lots of papers small and large leave jobs open or make small cuts without anyone writing about it.

If the audience is moving online, advertising is not following, at least not in the second quarter, when newspapers reported a 2.4 percent decline in online ad revenues. That's not much compared to the print slowdown, but it's not encouraging when newspapers have been pointing to the Web as representing their future. But in the third quarter, the newspaper web site audience grew 16 percent. One would think that ad revenues should resume their upward trend. I also read this week, and can't find the reference, that in September 41 percent of U.S. adults visited a newspaper web site, a new high. As newspapers disappear, however, we won't be talking about "newspaper web sites" anymore—just "news" sites.

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