Monday, April 21, 2014

The plight of newspapers in a single chart

The following chart is all you need to know about the breathtaking contraction of the newspaper industry that coincided with the explosive growth of digital advertising in recent years. Take a look and I will tell you what it means. 


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 advanced 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 heres 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. 

9 Comments:

Blogger Marc Matteo said...

a professed commitment of most publishers to pivot vigorously to the new medium

Yeah, when exactly did that happen? Remember: culture eats strategy for breakfast.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Rick Subber said...

Newspaper owners and executives have really never abandoned their dreamy assumptions in the early 1990s that "the Internet" would never amount to a hill of beans.
I was there. I heard the talk, and I watched them walk the walk.
And now, it's not about journalism anymore in the newspaper industry, it's all about the cash flow.
Sooner than we think we're going to be writing -30- on the newspaper industry story.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

The same newspaper publishers who refused to compete for digital talent even when they realized they would have to build websites, maybe 1995?

5:40 PM  
Blogger David Rothman said...

Great post. The newspaper industry has plenty of company in the library world (about which I've been writing for two decades). The resemblances are uncanny. Librarians have made progress, but the wisdom from Marc Matteo still applies: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

In strategizing or executing, too many library leaders can't look beyond today’s technology and today’s users despite all protests to the contrary. Granted, e-books aren’t perfect. But more than a few librarians still think, deep inside, regardless of denials, that E is a mere fad.

David Rothman
LibraryCity.org

7:48 PM  
Blogger Rick Subber said...

Yup, newspapers never competed much for external digital talent....of course, newspapers have never competed much for external talent of any kind, because it was too easy to make money with the folks who already were on the payroll.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Gadfly said...

And those digital dimes? Much of the newspaper world thinks that mobile digital will be the salvation, whereas digital dimes will be replaced by mobile nickels.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Janet DeGeorge said...

Compare apples with apples. Google adword revenue is 50% of that US online advertising total. Take away their 50% and you have $21 million for the US online ad sales and $21 million for newspapers print/online revenue. The same amount. Newspapers are the ones selling the full media mix of print/online/mobile and advertisers are coming back. Newspapers have cut the fat and they don;t need $43 million to be profitable any longer. Ad sales people are getting better training, newspapers are stepping up and smart publishers are seeing their profits again.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Janet DeGeorge said...

Compare apples with apples. Google adword revenue is 50% of that US online advertising total. Take away their 50% and you have $21 million for the US online ad sales and $21 million for newspapers print/online revenue. The same amount. Newspapers are the ones selling the full media mix of print/online/mobile and advertisers are coming back. Newspapers have cut the fat and they don;t need $43 million to be profitable any longer. Ad sales people are getting better training, newspapers are stepping up and smart publishers are seeing their profits again.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Rhonda Wong said...

The decline of print is no surprise and having been in traditional media for awhile (print & radio), I have seen both sides. I include yellow pages in this group and have to say that they were one of the few early adopters of the digital "trend". I don't know if it was just that they instinctively knew they would have to relinquish their print revenue some day or they just took pride in being first. Either way, they extended their revenue stream far beyond what many brands could have. I absolutely see the value in all forms of digital marketing to move brands foward, however, traditional media like radio, can still amplify the results of any campaign dramatically. I'm still a believer but very much an adopter of great new ideas to market any business!

12:27 PM  

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