In the past 50 years, the newspaper industry has been earning more from advertising revenue than circulation revenue, demonstrates this research from the Pew Research Center. However, the year 2020 marked a change in that tendency, with a circulation revenue staying at a constant level while advertisement revenue experiences a long-term decline.
First, it is important to understand that measuring newspaper circulation has been made complicated by digital circulation and newspapers not reporting their digital numbers to the AAM (Alliance for Audited Media) such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post — all major publications. When looking at the numbers the AAM does possess, we notice a constant decline in circulation since the years 1990s. In the year 2019, circulation was calculated at 25,952,584 daily newspapers on weekdays, against 24,299,333 in the year 2020. The AAM thus calculated a decrease in circulation by 19% on weekdays and 14% on Sundays.
Digital circulation, though, seems to have arisen in the year 2020 by 27% on weekdays and 26% on Sundays, and that is without counting the 3 major newspapers mentioned above that did not share their numbers. The overall estimation of weekday digital circulation is as high as 38%. When adding these two trends — a mild decline in print circulation and a sharp rise in digital circulation — we can conclude that overall newspaper circulation has been rising from the year 2019 to the year 2020.
With regards to advertising revenue, the trend is showing a decline. In 2020, the estimated total revenue from ads according to the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies was $8.8 billion, a 29% decline compared to 2019. While the circulation revenue reached $11.0 billion in 2019, it rose to $11.1 billion in 2020.
The Pew research also includes data showing the average visit duration on a website (ie. the amount of time someone spends on a newspaper website per visit) is decreasing since 2014 reaching less than 2 minutes in 2020. However, the number of unique monthly visitors (ie. people who navigate a news website only once during the month, across all devices) has been increasing since 2014 for the 50 top U.S. newspapers going from 8.2 million to 13.9 million visitors in 2020.