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Newspaper Readership — Over the Cliff?

  |   cl blog

Here’s a fun game you can play that will prove a point I want to make. In fact, I’ve played this game in the Scottsdale neighborhood to which my wife and I moved this past summer, and I was amazed by the revelation. As you go for an early morning walk with the dog, take a dawn jog, or as you drive down the street on your way to work, here’s the simple task: count the number of neighborhood homes you pass with at least one newspaper laying in the driveway.

My discovery? Of the 15 houses I pass to exit my community, only 3 (20%) apparently subscribe to a daily morning newspaper. If I had lived in the same community a decade ago, that number would have been closer to 6 households subscribing to the daily newspaper.

Pew Research Table Newspaper ReadershipIs this newspaper-in-the-driveway methodology valid? If you believe in the credibility of the Pew Research Poll on Journalism, then this observational research is entirely backed up by legitimate polling data just released by Pew. In fact, the data are startling not just in where we are as a country in our newspaper reading habits, but also in the SPEED with which this decline has occurred.

When the pollsters recently asked the question “Did you read a newspaper yesterday?” only 23% of the sample responded “Yes.” This is 18 points lower than the readership in 2002 (41%), or a 44% reduction in the number of people who said they read a newspaper. On the other hand, digital online consumption of newspaper content has risen. The growth in digital newspaper readership has not made up for the overall loss of print readership, but it has mitigated some of the erosion.

In fact, here’s a very telling statistic: large percentages of regular readers of leading newspapers opt for the digital version rather than subscribing to the print edition, even with formidable and expensive pay walls erected by several large newspapers. 55% of NY Times readers say they read the paper mostly on a computer or mobile device. 48% of USA Today readers say the same thing, while 44% of Wall Street Journal readers mostly read online versions.

The severe loss of newspaper print readership creates a significant, negative impact on print advertising dollars…supposedly the “gravy” that generates profit if a newspaper’s circulation revenue covers the basic cost of the manufacturing/distribution operations. From large national newspapers to the smaller local papers that may be part of a national chain (a la Gannett here in Arizona), total revenue has declined because for every $1 gain in digital advertising revenue, they have lost $10 of print advertising dollars.

The newspaper business will eventually become all digital, and accessibility will be further enhanced by creating responsive newspaper sites for display on computers, Smartphones and high resolution tablets. If I were a betting man, I believe that within 5 years the old “newspaper-in-the-driveway” research test may turn up only 1 daily newspaper delivered in my neighborhood.

How about in your neighborhood…have you noticed your personal print newspaper readership declining, and perhaps your own dramatic shift to online news consumption? Is this true of your neighbors based on your own driveway research? Let us hear from you if you have some insights you’d like to share.