Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I guess it could be worse ...

... but it's hard to imagine how.

The bad news is not only continuing for the newspaper biz, the situation calls to mind a cartoon snowball rolling downhill -- getting bigger and picking up speed as it descends to its tragicomic collision.

But nobody's laughing at Gannett or Tribune Company or any of the rest.

According to Editor and Publisher, the average US paper has lost about 10% of its circulation in the past four years, with a few (SF Chronicle is the worst) going 20% or higher.

But circulation is only part of the problem. Here's another article from E&P, headlined NAA Reveals Biggest Ad Revenue Plunge in More Than 50 Years. Does that sound bad? Well, it should, but unfortunately, the headline actually understates the case. Ad revenue was down 9.4% last year, which was the worst ever recorded (the records date back to 1950).

I don't know whether we are in or approaching a recession, but certainly the economy is slow and it seems hardly likely that ad revenue is likely to pick up soon; most projections are for a roughly flat year for advertising overall, and it seems reasonable that newspapers will lag other media, with most gains being on-line. And circulation losses are almost certain to continue, as older readers die off, the middle-aged continue to drop subscriptions, and the young continue to ignore the medium.

Sooner or later, of course, the snowball reaches the bottom of the hill. But that's usually a long way down.

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