The stubborn world of print media took way too long to avail themselves of the digital universe, and here in mid-2013 we are still seeing the fallout. A new audit this week by the Alliance for Audited Media shows us that while big international news orgs like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are boasting healthy circulations in print and online forms, local newspapers are seeing rapidly dwindling audiences and revenues. And magazines aren't doing so well either.
It's telling that the top two slots in the ranking of magazine circulations are occupied by AARP's two magazine titles, and both by a lot. The two have circulations of 22 million readers, while next in line in-print circulation are two other titles the elderlies love: Better Homes & Gardens, and Reader's Digest at 7.6 million and 5.2 million respectively. Magazine sales, as in newsstand sales, are pretty crappy too; they fell 10% in the first half of this year.
Magazines did manage to double their digital subscription base this year, likely via the popularity of tablets.
Newspaper circulation numbers, meanwhile, have seen a steady decline since the 1980s. As the Journal's Jason Bellini reports, about 63 million daily papers were being bought back in 1985, and that number is now about 45 million. And while people are willing to spend money for digital subscriptions to newspapers that cover a range of stories of national interest, like the NYT, other papers like the Washington Post and [cough] the San Francisco Chronicle aren't seeing the same success in luring paid online subscribers. The Chronicle, in fact, just slipped off the ranking of the top 25 circulated papers in the country for the first time in decades this year, with a total combined digital/print circulation of 219,000 as of March. (The figure for digital circulation post-paywall is not available at this time.)
The NYT boasts a circulation of 1.2 million daily readers now, and the WSJ has double that, at 2.4 million, with a bigger percentage of print readers.
The value of locally focused newspapers continues to slip as these numbers decline. Just this week, as you likely heard, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for a cool $250 million after posting a 14 percent earnings loss, and the New York Times Company sold off the Boston Globe at a significant loss 20 years after they bought it the purchase price in 1993 was $1.1 billion, and not adjusting for inflation they still took a bath selling it at $70 million.
What does it all mean? It means that local papers had better quickly catch up in terms of online ad revenue and digital subscriptions if they're going to survive, but it remains to be seen how many digital subscriptions the average newshound is willing to pay for when there's a whole free internet there to inform them.
Watch Bellini's full report below.