Did Covid-19 put an end to newspapers? How publishers compensate for low print readership


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Newspaper readership has declined significantly since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The American Investigatora regional newspaper in the Midwest of the United States, had a peak weekly circulation of over 17,000 copies in 2008, but by the time 2020 came the publication had suffered the same fate as many other newspapers, hitting historic lows with a weekly print circulation of less than 500. The publication announced in a tweet that they would discontinue their print edition after July 4 and focus on their much more successful digital edition.

According to a study by Pew Research, newspaper circulation peaked in the late 1990s at over 62 million with advertising revenues of nearly $50 billion. Fast forward to 2020 – traffic hit just 24 million and ad revenue dropped to just over $9 billion. That’s a drop in readership of over 60% and a drop in revenue of over 80%! Only a handful of print newspapers have managed to retain their customers, including publications such as the The New York Times, the wall street journal, USA today and The Washington Post.

Why did this happen? What are the trends driving these drastic declines in readership?

Why is the circulation of printed newspapers falling so much?

With new technologies, everything is going digital. It’s simply much easier and more profitable to have countless books, newspapers and magazines at your fingertips than to wait for physical copies to arrive.

Digital media is more interactive and immersive, users can switch between articles, share them, and interact with the media embedded in the articles – all things that are more difficult or impossible to do with a physical print copy of a newspaper. Do you want to embed a video in your article? Impossible to do this on a printed paper.

Not only is it simpler and more profitable for the reader, but it’s easier for publishers to distribute electronic copies of print media to readers. With digital editions, publishers don’t have to buy paper, ink or maintain their printing presses. Additionally, advertisers are increasingly turning to digital platforms and newspapers want to get in on the action. Publishers often include free digital subscriptions to print subscribers to relieve them of print newspapers with the goal of eventually going digital.

Related: Is Your Biz Black and White and Read Everywhere?

How do newspapers combat declining print readership?

Print logs such as The American Investigator are increasingly relying on digital readership and interactive elements, focusing on monetization strategies that place much greater emphasis on digital subscriptions and advertising to drive their revenue models. Publishers are putting more effort into multimedia content for social media than they were before Covid.

Here are some ways publications are monetizing content in the digital age:

  • Digital subscriptions: Newspapers offer digital subscriptions, allowing users full access to the digital version of the publication.

  • Advertisement: Digital classified ads, Google ads, and pre-roll video ads are some of the most popular ad types.

  • Organize events : Newspapers often hold conventions and other in-person events, charging entry and sales fees.

  • Social media: Newspapers are increasingly turning to digital content for social media, often monetizing this content.

  • Interactive apps and games: Some publishers use online games and interactive elements to make money.

Here are some examples:

USA today led the pack in mobile apps. They entered the mobile app arena at the right time to secure a massive following, making them one of the most successful news app publishers in the world. They don’t just make news, however. They have crossword puzzles, videos, polls, and other interactive elements in their mobile apps.

The New York Times bought the massively successful online word game “Wordle” for an undisclosed amount that was “seven figures”, according to the Time, all with the goal of increasing the ways users interact with the news publisher.

The National Newspaper Association hosts an annual convention and trade show in Milwaukee.

Related: The Future of Content Lies in Transparent, Digital Publishing

Will printed newspapers completely disappear?

Printed newspapers are increasingly reducing printing days. Some cut so much that they become weeklies, and others, like The American Investigator, cut all print editions completely. Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, reduced the number of printing days in 136 of its publications, soon to be followed by 50 more. The company announced that digital editions would be available for all cut days, saying it “embraces [their] the digital future with this evolved experience.”

Print newspapers are still a major source of income for publishers, although not as much as they used to be. Gannett Co.’s digital revenue is only 32% of its revenue, making print a very valuable newspaper medium. It doesn’t look like most print newspapers are going to completely disappear any time soon, but expect digital editions to become more and more prevalent over time.


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