March 31, 2011

Sobering News for some Popular Papers

% Loss
Des Moines Register -11.3
Louisville Courier-Journal -9.4
Austin American- Statesman -8.2
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle -6.5
Richmond Times-Dispatch -6.5

#16 – Number of top 20 newspapers (by market penetration) that lost overall audience in 2010

Newspaper companies frequently claim that between their print subscribers and online audience, they are attracting more readers than ever before. But that may not have been the case last year.

Indeed, new figures from Scarborough Research obtained by the Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds show audience reach across the two platforms dropping in 2010 for many papers that boast the most loyal readership in the country.

Of the top 20 U.S. newspapers in terms of market penetration—the percentage of adults in a metro region reading the paper in print or online or both—16 dailies actually saw a decline in penetration from 2009 to 2010. Only three saw their overall reach increase.[1]

Many of the market penetration declines were modest, but among those suffering the biggest losses in 2010 were the Des Moines Register (-11.3%), the Louisville Courier-Journal (-9.4%) and the Austin American-Statesman (-8.2%).

The three newspapers that grew their percentage of market reach for the year were Gannett’s Wisconsin papers (68% to 69%), the New Orleans Times-Picayune (66% to 68%) and Tulsa World (51% to 53%). [2]

When looking at the top newspapers by market penetration, the No. 1 publication is the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which was read by 72% of adults in the Rochester metro region. Second was a combination of Gannett’s newspapers in Wisconsin at 69% followed by the New Orleans times-Picayune at 68%. The rest of the chart can be seen here.

This list of market penetration leaders differs significantly from the 20 newspapers with the largest combined print and online readership. Only one newspaper made both lists: The Washington Post, with 60% market penetration and a combined readership of 2,836,127.  As Edmonds points out, the highest penetration papers tend to be in compact metro areas rather than sprawling ones that often have competing suburban dailies.

Still, a vast majority of papers on both lists lost combined readers between 2009 and 2010 –more bad news for an industry already reeling from continuing revenue declines last year.

Emily Guskin of PEJ


1.The Scarborough surveys for each year are conducted on a rotating basis so the figures are from different times over the course of the year.

2. Gannett Wisconsin Papers include Appleton Post-Crescent, Fond du Lac Reporter, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Oshkosh Northwester and their websites.