News audience has been decoupled from ad revenue

November 18, 2009

Copying text from MediaPost to make sure I have it:

Newspaper publishers hoping to staunch the flow of ad dollars out of the medium got some help this week from a Scarborough Research study, which found that 74% of American adults either read the newspaper or visit a newspaper Web site at least once a week.

These data indicate newspapers still enjoy considerable reach; whether advertisers will be impressed by these figures is another story.

Scarborough’s latest Integrated Newspaper Audience study revealed that 171 million American adults read a newspaper’s print or online version at least once a week.

What’s more, well-heeled and well-educated consumers index even higher in newspaper readership, with 79% of white-collar workers, 82% of adults with household incomes over $100,000 per year, and 84% of college graduates reading print or online newspaper content at least once a week.

Of course, newspapers are still faced with a long-term decline in print readership, but the print versions still reach tens of millions of American adults. Commenting on the findings, Gary Meo, Scarborough’s vice president of print and digital media services, stated: “While our data does show that print newspaper readership is slowly declining… given the fragmentation of media choices, printed newspapers are holding onto their audiences relatively well.”

Impressive online figures show that at least in terms of audience — newspapers have successfully transitioned to digital media.

According to a separate study by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America, between the first half of 2004 and the first half of 2009, newspaper Web sites’ total unique audience almost doubled from a monthly average of 41,147,206 to 71,831,867.

In terms of active reach, altogether, newspaper Web sites jumped from 27.1% of all U.S. Internet users in the first six months of 2004 to 41.8% of all Internet users in the first six months of 2009.

While welcome news for the industry, these kind of data merely serve to highlight the fact that ad revenues appear to have become decoupled from audience size. An analysis of figures from Audit Bureau of Circulations shows that between the first half of 2005 and the first half of 2009, total circulation for 125 big American newspapers declined about 14%, from 27.1 million to 23.3 million.

Over the same period, print ad revenues plunged from $22.2 billion in the first half of 2005 to $12.2 billion in the first half of 2009 — a 45% decrease, over three times the percentage decline in audience.

At the same time, newspaper publishers have failed to monetize online audiences at anywhere near the rate of their legacy print products: In the second quarter of 2009, total online revenues of $653 million were still less than 10% of total revenues of $6.8 billion.

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