Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Newspaper audience aged severely since 2010

The population of people reading newspapers has aged dramatically in the last three years to the point that nearly three-quarters of the audience is aged 45 or older, according to my analysis of survey and census data. 
When I performed the same analysis using the same methodology in 2010, only half of the newspaper audience was aged 45 or higher, reflecting a rapidly growing rejection of  newspapers among most younger readers.
The rapid graying of the newspaper audience has huge and unpleasant implications for publishers, as discussed in a moment.  First, the data:
As illustrated in the chart immediately below, the Pew Research Center reported in a survey last fall that newspaper readership is heavily concentrated in the upper age ranges of the population.  While only 6% of respondents in the 18-24 bracket said they had read a newspaper in the previous day, Pew found that fully 48% of those over the age of 65 had done so. Here is how that looks:
I compared the Pew data with census data to estimate the actual numbers of newspaper readers in each of the age cohorts. The graph below compares the percentage of newspaper readers in an age group (blue) with the percentage of individuals in the population as a whole (orange).
As you can see, 74% of the newspaper audience is aged 45 years or older, even though the two oldest age cohorts collectively constitute 39% of the population.  At the other end of the continuum, only 6% of the newspaper audience is 18-24, even though this age group constitutes 10% of the population.   
The above calculations caused me to check my math several extra times, because the new data show that the newspaper audience has aged radically since I performed the same analysis in 2010, discovering that only 51% of newspaper readers were older than 45.  If the aging of the newspaper audience seemed like a problem for the industry in back in 2010, then the far older audience today can be regarded as nothing less than a crisis. Here’s why: 
∷ The mature skew of the audience is unappealing to most advertisers, who generally target individuals in the early life stages of forming households and raising children.  The older audience delivered by newspapers could reduce the sales potential for an industry that already has lost more than half of its advertising since hitting an all-time high of $49.4 billion in 2005.
∷ Absent a sudden influx of twenty- and thirty-something readers, the heavy dependence of the newspaper industry on aged and aging readers means that its audience at some point will die off.  While the Social Security Administration says a 65-year-old woman statistically can look forward to nearly 20 more years of life, the above data clearly demonstrate that the industry is failing to replace older readers with younger individuals.   At some point, the newspaper audience may contract so severely that (a) publishers cannot attract enough advertisers, (b) publishers no longer enjoy the economies of scale necessary to print profitably or (c) both of the above.
∷ The weak readership in the younger segments of the population suggests that both the form and content of the print product are not widely appealing to the generations that came of age in the digital age. While there doesn’t appear to be much hope of attracting a significant number of sub-45 individuals to the print product, publishers have a shot at extending and protecting their valuable franchises by developing digitally native products that could – and should – be embraced by the Digital Natives. 
The time for the industry to pivot from print to pixels appears to running low. In the meantime, none of us is getting any younger.  

UPDATE (1.17.2013):  The above post was challenged in this article at Poynter.Org.  Following is my response to the issues raised by the author:

Scarborough Research says 68% of the newspaper audience is over 45 and I say 74%. So, we are not too far apart about the state of play today. 
As for the velocity of change, I based my analysis and my blog post on two studies from Pew, which asked where people got their news. In 2010, 21% of those between the ages of 18-29 said they used newspapers.  In 2012, the number fell to 8%.  In 2010, 26% of those aged 30-49 said newspapers. In 2012, the number dropped to 14%. Newspaper readership also declined among older reader but not nearly as much. 
Like my friend, Tom Rosenstiel, the author of the Poynter article, I would rather fix the problems than debate the data.  In his new role at the American Press Institute, he is in an exceptional position to do so.  


Blogger Gary Meo said...

It is likely not an apples-to-apples comparison given the differences in our survey methodology, but according to Scarborough's most recent national data, about 48% of adults who read a daily printed newspaper on an average-issue basis, are age 45 or older. In 2006,that number was about 38%. The median age of a daily newspaper reader was 45 in 2006. Today it is 54. Newspapers have always appealed to older people more than younger people, and the newspaper reader is aging, no doubt, but our data suggests that it is not as severe as your analysis suggests. Nonetheless, it is clear that newspapers' viability depends upon the development of products that appeal to younger adults.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

The methodology isn't quite right because the drastic decade-long cut in live births in the 1970s is moving through the population (the 25-44 cohort actually DECLINED from 2000 to 2010 for instance), but the results are close enough. The fact that all newspaper subscription efforts were suspended from 2009 to 2011 and that unemployment is higher among the young accounts for a third to half the difference. New technologies for the rest. The part due to new technologies is irretrievable.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Anthony Hopper said...

Most major publishing and media agencies (those that are still around anyway) are aware of this fact and are dedicating a significant amount of resources to digitizing their materials (and becoming immersed in the Internet). I think that the real problem is that a lot of the media offerings via the Internet look too much like their paper based editions.

Media companies need to adapt to the Internet instead of trying to get the Internet to fit into their 20th century frames.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

I don;t care. I still love newspapers.

2:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a subtle distinction that is certainly implied but which I think you should have mentioned explicitly: your graph should have listed birth years rather than ages. Rather than say, "65-plus" you should label that column as "People born on or before 1947"; rather than "50-64" you should say "People born from to 1948 to 1962", and so forth.

This would make it easier to see the point, which I contend, that individuals will most likely keep their newspaper reading habits with each passing year going forward. We do not expect that ten years from now 48% of people born from 1948 to 1962 will be reading printed newspapers; quite the contrary. It will very likely be that considerably less than 30% of them will be doing so ten years in the future.

Empirically, the research you analyze cannot predict future trends, but it seems obvious to everybody, which is why I think this would help make that point.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Bruce Wood said...

There may be another reason this number is off. Research survey companies are calling landline phone numbers. Many young people and young families are opting to only have cell phones. These households are not included in the surveys and it's skewing the numbers and indicating an older household audience.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Bruce Wood said...

There may be another reason this number is off. Research survey companies are calling landline phone numbers. Many young people and young families are opting to only have cell phones. These households are not included in the surveys and it's skewing the numbers and indicating an older household audience.

5:26 PM  

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