Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Dying on the vine

Posted on | March 31, 2008 | No Comments

Newspaper advertising revenue fell nearly 10 percent in 2007, according to a fresh report from the Newspaper Association of America. Paced by an unsurprising 16.5 percent collapse of classified revenue, newspapers pulled in $42.2 billion in 2007, down 9.4 percent from 2007, which itself was down 1.6 percent from 2005.
Here’s a closer look at the numbers.

  • What goes up does come down but doesn’t necessarily plummet: If you combine print and online, the ad sales were down to $45.3 billion, but that’s the fifth-highest total in 50 years (not counting the outlying year of 2000). It’s taken 50 years for the industry–with radio, television and direct mail competing fiercely–to get into the $40 billion range. It won’t revert to zero overnight.
  • The glory days of Post World War II newspapers was in the 1970s, when ad sales jumped 143 percent in the decade, astonishing growth in the face of increasing television penetration. Growth in the 1950s was 70 percent and fell in the 1960s to 55 percent, but classifieds began to really become a major factor in newspaper ad sales, as the country’s wealth rose and the culture became more mobile. Growth slowed to 119 percent in the 1980s and 43 percent in the 1990s. This decade its down 7 percent, led by a nearly 30 percent decline in classified revenue.
  • Is there a silver lining? Barely: If you pull out the print classifieds, newspaper print and online revenue is up 7 percent this decade. That’s not bad considering the recession of 2001 (down 9 percent) was second only to 2007 as awful advertising years. It’s very possible that the industry is getting hurt just as much if not more from two recessions in a decade as it is from technological shifts.

Yes, technology is playing a part. Classifieds should be online. They work much better there. News content and brand advertising don’t necessarily. Any editorial content that newspapers wrap around their print classified is usually dreadfully dull because, well, it IS the classified section after all. (Funny, though, how big-city weeklies grew bigtime by wrapping compelling, focused content around what essentially were classifieds. Hmmm….). That kind of daily newspaper neglect of its overall product is something Steve Boriss rails about frequently.

  • The NAA report makes a point that the growth of newspapers’ online revenue is not making up for the falling ad dollars elsewhere. This is something the business-to-business press has been experiencing for more than a decade. But that sector (some people faster than others) have scrambled to hedge the downside risk. They’ve looked for other ways to engage their audiences, be it from getting into face to face events, or marketing partnerships and the like. They’re trying at least, and in some cases, their divisions may be profitable while their print publications are struggling.

While newspaper holding companies may be diverse, newspapers themselves are not. Foreign-language editions in Miami and elsewhere were a start, but that’s just a different flavor of the same dish. Try actually engaging with your communities, folks. They’re more than happy to help you build ancillary businesses around your print brand.

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