Newspaper business got less bad in 2010


The best you can say about 2010 for the US newspaper business is that the annual revenue decline returned to a single-digit percentage. The fifth straight year of falling revenues saw the year-over-year decline slow to 6.3%.

According to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), 2010 revenues for the industry were $25.84 billion. That’s the lowest total since $27 billion in 1986. Excluding online revenues, print ad revenues were $22.8 billion last year, the lowest since $20.58 billion in 1983.

NAA President and CEO John Sturm put the best spin possible on the numbers: “Quarter after quarter, newspaper advertising has shown signs of a continued turnaround and an essential repositioning. Buoyed by online growth and moderating print declines, these figures point to a continually improving advertising environment for newspapers, with encouraging trends as we progress further into 2011. Online revenues increased 14 percent in last year’s fourth quarter, with 12 percent of all newspaper ad revenues generated from digital platforms,” he said.
“Newspapers – in print and digital form – remain the largest source of original, high-quality news and information in the United States, reaching nearly two-thirds of all adult Internet users and attracting more than 164 million people who read a newspaper in print or online each and every week,” Sturm added.

Digital was indeed the bright spot in 2010. After declining for two straight years, online ad revenues were back up 10.9% to $3.04 billion. All other ad categories were negative, although they did not repeat the double-digit percentage declines seen for two straight years (three for classified). National advertising fell 4.6% to $4.22 billion; retail was off 9.1% to $12.93 billion; and classified dropped 8.6% to $5.65 billion.

RBR-TVBR observation: Until recent years we doubt that many newspaper reporters and editors ever gave much thought to how much of their paycheck was derived from the boring classified ads that they likely considered a waste of space in their newspapers. Classified revenues nationwide exceeded $10 billion annually from 1987 through 2007 before falling off a cliff. Newspaper company executives concede that classified advertising has moved online (sometimes to their own newspaper sites) and that most of that business will never come back. What remains to be seen is when they will finally be able to stop the drain of retail and national ad dollars.