MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA
Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hit hard as more and more Americans consume news digitally. The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s, and website audience traffic, after some years of growth, has leveled off. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about U.S. newspapers below.
The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2018 was 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday, down 8% and 9%, respectively, from the previous year.
Weekday print circulation decreased 12% and Sunday print circulation decreased 13%.
(Note that in this fact sheet and in the chart below, data through 2014 is from Editor & Publisher, which was published on the website of the News Media Alliance (NMA), known at the time as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Since then, the NMA/NAA no longer supplies this data, so the Center determined the year-over-year change in total circulation for those daily U.S. newspapers that report to the Alliance for Audited Media and meet certain criteria, as detailed in the note of the chart below. This percentage change was then applied to the total circulation from the prior year – thus the use of the term “estimated total circulation.”)
Digital circulation is more difficult to gauge. Three of the highest-circulation daily papers in the U.S. – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – have in recent years not fully reported their digital circulation to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), the group that audits the circulation figures of many of the largest North American newspapers and other publications. Two of these papers report such digital circulation elsewhere: The New York Times in their financial statements and The Wall Street Journal in reports available on the Dow Jones website. (The Washington Post does not fully report digital circulation in any forum.) But because they may not be counted under the same rules used by AAM, these independently produced figures cannot easily be merged with the AAM data.
Taking these complexities into account, using only the AAM data, digital circulation in 2018 is projected to have risen, with weekday up 6% and Sunday up 8%. According to the independently produced reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, both companies experienced substantial gains in digital circulation in the past year: 27% for the Times and 23% for the Journal, on top of large gains in 2017. If these independently produced figures were included with the AAM data in both 2017 and 2018, weekday digital circulation would have risen by 17%.
The addition of these figures would also change the overall picture for combined print and digital circulation. The digital boost driven by these two large, national brands would still result in an overall drop in circulation year over year, but a smaller one: Overall weekday circulation would have fallen by 1% in 2018 rather than 8%.
Gauging digital audience for the entire newspaper industry is difficult since many daily newspapers do not receive enough traffic to their websites to be measured by Comscore, the data source relied on here. Thus, the figures offered above reflect the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers based on circulation. In the fourth quarter of 2018, there was an average of 11.6 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers. This is nearly the same as in Q4 2017 (11.5 million) and 2016 (11.7 million); following two years of growth from 2014 to 2016, newspapers’ website traffic has leveled off. (The list of top 50 papers is based on Sunday circulation but also includes The Wall Street Journal, which does not report Sunday circulation to AAM. It also includes The Washington Post and The New York Times, which make the top 50 even though they do not fully report their digital circulation to AAM. For more details and the full list of newspapers, see our methodology.)
Average minutes per visit for the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, is about 2 1/3 minutes in Q4 2018. This is down 5% from Q4 2017.
The total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2018 was $14.3 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This is down 13% from 2017. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11.0 billion, compared with $11.2 billion in 2017.
In the chart above, data through 2012 comes from the trade group formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), now known as the News Media Alliance (NMA). Data from 2013 onward is based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements from publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies, which now number seven and account for more than 300 U.S. daily newspapers, from large national papers to midsize metro dailies and local papers. From 2013 onward, the year-over-year percentage change in advertising and circulation revenue for these companies is calculated and then applied to the previous year’s revenue totals as reported by the NMA/NAA. In testing this method, changes from 2006 through 2012 generally matched those as reported by the NMA/NAA; for more details, see our 2016 report.
Digital advertising accounted for 35% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2018, based on this analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. The portion stood at 31% in 2017 – but at 17% in 2011, the first year it was possible to perform this analysis.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, 37,900 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers, or film and video editors in the newspaper industry in 2018. That is down 14% from 2015 and 47% from 2004. Median wages for editors in 2018 were about $49,000, while for reporters, the figure was about $35,000.
Employment in newspaper newsrooms
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This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Researcher Michael Barthel.
Read the methodology.
Find more in-depth explorations of U.S. newspapers by following the links below:
- U.S. newsroom employment has dropped a quarter since 2008, with greatest decline at newspapers July 9, 2019
- For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection, March 26, 2019
- Interactive: What are the local news dynamics in your city?, March 26, 2019
- Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source, Dec. 10, 2018
- Americans Still Prefer Watching to Reading the News – and Mostly Still Through Television, Dec. 3, 2018
- About a third of large U.S. newspapers have suffered layoffs since 2017, July 23, 2018
- Covering President Trump in a Polarized Media Environment, Oct. 2, 2017
- For election news, young people turned to some national papers more than their elders, Feb. 17, 2017
- Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their Main Source for Election News, Jan. 18, 2017