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 early 2000s, even as website audience traffic has grown for many. Meanwhile, alt-weekly papers have also seen their circulation drop. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about U.S. newspapers below.
The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11% and 10%, respectively, from the previous year. Declines were highest in print circulation: Weekday print circulation decreased 11% and Sunday circulation decreased 10%. (Note that in this fact sheet, and in the chart below, data through 2014 are from Editor & Publisher, which were 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 these 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 the AAM data, digital circulation in 2017 was projected to have fallen, with weekday down 9% and Sunday also down 9%. According to the independently produced reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, however, both companies saw large gains in digital circulation in the past year: 42% for the Times and 26% for the Journal, on top of gains in 2016. If these independently produced figures were included in both 2016 and 2017, weekday digital circulation would have risen by 10%.
This would also change the overall picture for combined print and digital circulation. Including 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 4% in 2017 rather than 11%.
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 2017, there was an average of 11.5 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers. This is nearly the same as in 2016 (11.7 million), making this the first year since we began tracking the trend that did not show a double-digit rise in web traffic: There was, for example, a 21% increase from 2015 to 2016 and an 18% rise from 2014 to 2015. (The list of top 50 papers is based on Sunday circulation but also includes The Wall Street Journal, which does not have any Sunday circulation. 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 two-and-a-half minutes. This is roughly the same as 2016.
Beyond daily newspapers, many U.S. cities have what are known as “alt-weekly” papers – weekly newspapers, generally distributed for free, which put a heavy focus on arts and culture. Average circulation for the top 20 U.S. alt-weekly papers is just over 55,000, a 10% decline from 2016.
Turning back to the newspaper industry as a whole, the total estimated newspaper industry advertising revenue for 2017 was $16.5 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This decreased 10% from 2016. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11 billion, which is changed only slightly from 2016, up by 3%.
In the chart above, data through 2012 come 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 are 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 to local papers. For each year since 2012, 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 2004 through 2012 generally matched those as reported by the NMA/NAA; for more details, see our 2016 report.
Digital advertising accounted for 31% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2017, based on this same analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. The portion stood at 29% in 2016 and 17% in 2011.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, 39,210 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers, or film and video editors in the newspaper industry in 2017. That is down 15% from 2014 and 45% from 2004. Median wages for editors in 2017 were about $49,000, while for reporters the figure was about $34,000.
Employment in newspaper newsrooms
Find out more
This fact sheet was compiled by Research Associate Michael Barthel.
Read the methodology.
Find more in-depth explorations of U.S. newspapers by following the links below: