Posted by: Jon Fine on May 15, 2009
People are still paying for the print newspaper. In fact, in almost all cases, people are paying more for the print newspaper: circulation revenues rose, if slightly, at almost all of the remaining publicly traded newspaper companies in the first three months of this year:
McClatchy: circulation rev up 0.9% to $68.5 million
New York Times Co.: circulation revnue up 1%, to $228.9 million
Lee Enterprises: circulation revenue down 4.1%, to $47.1 million
AH Belo: circulation revenue up 8.9%, to $31.7 million
Media General: circulation revenue up 6.2%
Gannett: US circulation revenue up 1%. (These revenues at UK properties were down, and pushed company’s total circulation revenue down 3.1%.)
E.W. Scripps: circulation revenue up 0.4% to $30.6 million.
In dollars, this means little for these companies when ad revenues—which generally make up 80%, or more, of total US newspaper revenue each year—are down more than 20%, and, in some cases, down more than 30%.
It's more illuminating when it comes to the psychology of newspaper readers, by which I mean "people who read a printed newspaper." Overall newspaper circulation declined 7% for the six months ending March 31. Thus, much of these companies' gains are coming from increased prices.
That tiny bit of pricing power indicates there’s a still a decent tie with consumers, which persisted even when backdropped by many newspaper companies declaring bankruptcy and a steep economic turndown. Lots of places that make their money from consumer spending did not show single-digit revenue growth in the first three months of 2009. (Of course, lots of places sell products that cost more than a daily newspaper.)
So, yes, even today, there remains some tenacity in readers’ attachment to print newspapers. If you’re wildly optimistic, you might extrapolate from this data that a decent percentage of readers will tolerate some sort of online pricing to read newspaper content.
Or it might mean that a portion of the readership will still pay up for the physical newspaper,
I’m not wildly optimistic, so my money’s on option #2. Still, that’s something. It ain’t gonna save newspapers, but it’s something.