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Fact Sheet

June 13, 2018

Newspapers Fact Sheet

    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.

    Audience

    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.”)

    Total estimated circulation of U.S. daily newspapers

    Year Weekday Sunday Weekday (estimated) Sunday (estimated)
    1940 41,132,000 32,371,000
    1945 48,384,000 39,860,000
    1946 50,928,000 43,665,000
    1947 51,673,000 45,151,000
    1948 52,285,000 46,308,000
    1949 52,846,000 46,399,000
    1950 53,829,000 46,582,000
    1951 54,018,000 46,279,000
    1952 53,951,000 46,210,000
    1953 54,472,000 45,949,000
    1954 55,072,000 46,176,000
    1955 56,147,000 46,448,000
    1956 57,102,000 47,162,000
    1957 57,805,000 47,044,000
    1958 57,418,000 46,955,000
    1959 58,300,000 47,848,000
    1960 58,882,000 47,699,000
    1961 59,261,000 48,216,000
    1962 59,849,000 48,888,000
    1963 58,905,000 46,830,000
    1964 60,412,000 48,383,000
    1965 60,358,000 48,600,000
    1966 61,397,000 49,282,000
    1967 61,561,000 49,224,000
    1968 62,535,000 49,693,000
    1969 62,060,000 49,675,000
    1970 62,108,000 49,217,000
    1971 62,231,000 49,665,000
    1972 62,510,000 50,001,000
    1973 63,147,000 51,717,000
    1974 61,877,000 51,679,000
    1975 60,655,000 51,096,000
    1976 60,977,000 51,565,000
    1977 61,495,000 52,429,000
    1978 61,990,000 53,990,000
    1979 62,223,000 54,380,000
    1980 62,202,000 54,676,000
    1981 61,431,000 55,180,000
    1982 62,487,000 56,261,000
    1983 62,645,000 56,747,000
    1984 63,340,000 57,574,000
    1985 62,766,000 58,826,000
    1986 62,502,000 58,925,000
    1987 62,826,000 60,112,000
    1988 62,695,000 61,474,000
    1989 62,649,000 62,008,000
    1990 62,328,000 62,635,000
    1991 60,687,000 62,068,000
    1992 60,164,000 62,160,000
    1993 59,812,000 62,566,000
    1994 59,305,000 62,295,000
    1995 58,193,000 61,229,000
    1996 56,983,000 60,798,000
    1997 56,728,000 60,486,000
    1998 56,182,000 60,066,000
    1999 55,979,000 59,894,000
    2000 55,773,000 59,421,000
    2001 55,578,000 59,090,000
    2002 55,186,000 58,780,000
    2003 55,185,000 58,495,000
    2004 54,626,000 57,754,000
    2005 53,345,000 55,270,000
    2006 52,329,000 53,179,000
    2007 50,742,000 51,246,000
    2008 48,597,000 49,115,000
    2009 45,653,000 46,164,000
    2010  -- --
    2011 44,421,000 48,510,000
    2012 43,433,000 44,821,000
    2013 40,712,000 43,292,000
    2014 40,420,000 42,751,000
    2015 37,711,860 40,955,458
    2016 34,657,199 37,801,888
    2017 30,948,419 33,971,695

    Pew Research Center

    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%.

    Unique visitors of newspaper websites

    Year Average monthly unique visitors
    2014 8,233,544
    2015 9,709,071
    2016 11,734,536
    2017 11,527,744

    Pew Research Center

    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.)

    Visit duration of newspaper websites

    Year Average minutes per visit
    2014 2.59
    2015 2.59
    2016 2.45
    2017 2.44

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Average circulation of alt-weekly newspapers

    Year Average circulation
    2012 87,186
    2013 79,942
    2014 72,910
    2015 65,936
    2016 61,654
    2017 55,347

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Economics

    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%.

    Estimated advertising and circulation revenue of the newspaper industry

    Year Advertising Circulation Advertising (estimated) Circulation (estimated)
    1956 $3,223,000,000 $1,344,492,000
    1957 $3,268,000,000 $1,373,464,000
    1958 $3,176,000,000 $1,459,013,000
    1959 $3,526,000,000 $1,549,576,000
    1960 $3,681,000,000 $1,604,228,000
    1961 $3,601,000,000 $1,684,319,000
    1962 $3,659,000,000 $1,819,840,000
    1963 $3,780,000,000 $1,901,820,000
    1964 $4,120,000,000 $1,983,809,000
    1965 $4,426,000,000 $2,023,090,000
    1966 $4,865,000,000 $2,109,050,000
    1967 $4,910,000,000 $2,180,242,000
    1968 $5,232,000,000 $2,288,215,000
    1969 $5,714,000,000 $2,425,446,000
    1970 $5,704,000,000 $2,634,402,000
    1971 $6,167,000,000 $2,833,320,000
    1972 $6,939,000,000 $2,929,233,000
    1973 $7,481,000,000 $3,037,820,000
    1974 $7,842,000,000 $3,581,733,000
    1975 $8,234,000,000 $3,921,515,000
    1976 $9,618,000,000 $4,087,303,000
    1977 $10,751,000,000 $4,310,236,000
    1978 $12,213,000,000 $4,534,779,000
    1979 $13,863,000,000 $4,950,542,000
    1980 $14,794,000,000 $5,469,589,000
    1981 $16,527,000,000 $6,206,141,000
    1982 $17,694,000,000 $6,656,661,000
    1983 $20,581,000,000 $7,044,098,000
    1984 $23,522,000,000 $7,368,158,000
    1985 $25,170,000,000 $7,659,297,000
    1986 $26,990,000,000 $8,052,148,000
    1987 $29,412,000,000 $8,399,032,000
    1988 $31,197,000,000 $8,046,287,000
    1989 $32,368,000,000 $8,370,324,000
    1990 $32,280,000,000
    1991 $30,349,000,000 $8,697,679,000
    1992 $30,639,000,000 $9,163,534,000
    1993 $31,869,000,000 $9,193,802,000
    1994 $34,109,000,000 $9,443,217,000
    1995 $36,092,000,000 $9,720,186,000
    1996 $38,075,000,000 $9,969,240,000
    1997 $41,330,000,000 $10,065,642,000
    1998 $43,925,000,000 $10,266,955,000
    1999 $46,289,000,000 $10,472,294,000
    2000 $48,670,000,000 $10,540,643,000
    2001 $44,305,000,000 $10,783,078,000
    2002 $44,102,000,000 $11,025,896,000
    2003 $46,156,000,000 $11,224,362,000
    2004 $48,244,000,000 $10,988,651,000
    2005 $49,435,000,000 $10,746,901,000
    2006 $49,275,402,572 $10,548,344,000
    2007 $45,375,000,000 $10,294,920,096
    2008 $37,848,257,630 $10,086,956,940
    2009 $27,564,000,000 $10,066,783,026
    2010 $25,837,698,822 $10,049,360,689
    2011 $27,078,473,864 $9,989,064,525
    2012 $25,316,461,215 $10,448,561,493
    2013 $23,587,097,435 $10,641,662,892
    2014 $22,077,809,951 $10,744,324,061
    2015 $20,362,238,293 $10,870,292,720
    2016 $18,274,943,567 $10,910,460,499
    2017 $16,476,453,084 $11,211,011,020

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Percentage of newspaper advertising revenue coming from digital advertising

    Year Advertising revenue coming from digital advertising
    2011 17%
    2012 19%
    2013 20%
    2014 21%
    2015 25%
    2016 29%
    2017 31%

    Pew Research Center

    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.

    Newsroom investment

    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

    • Employees
    • Wages

    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: