The numbers are bad. Really bad.
Owning a newspaper these days is like owning a white elephant. Except white elephants don’t have their own unions. The AEI numbers tell the tale.
The updated chart above shows annual data from 1950 to 2013 in inflation-adjusted (2013) dollars. The blue line represents total annual print newspaper advertising revenue (for the three categories national, retail, and classified), and appear in the chart as billions of constant 2013 dollars. Newspaper print advertising revenues of just $17.3 billion in 2013 fell to the lowest level of print advertising since the NAA started tracking industry data in 1950. In constant 2013 dollars, advertising revenues last year were $2.7 billion (and 13.5%) below the $20 billion spent in 1950, 62 years ago. Print advertising last year was almost $2 billion below the level of $19.2 billion in 2012, which was the first year that print advertising revenues fell below the 1950 level.
The decline in print newspaper advertising to a 63-year low is pretty amazing by itself, but the sharp decline in recent years is stunning. Newspaper print advertising revenues decreased more than 50% in just the last five years, from $37.6 billion in 2008 to only $17.3 billion last year; and by almost 70% over the last decade, from $56.9 billion in 2003.
That’s the cliff. And the American newspaper is going over it.
A 2011 IBISWorld report on “Dying Industries” identified newspaper publishing as one of ten industries that may be on the verge of extinction in the United States.
But we aren’t done. Cable news is next.
MSNBC is Air America and its staffers know it. They’re not thinking of it as their long term gig, but as their platform for their next gig. CNN is making the transition to infotainment. FOX News will hang on longer.
That doesn’t mean that the Great Booming Voice of Media Liberalism is dead. But it does mean that it is losing much of its authority. Its credibility numbers are poor and it’s increasingly relying on shrillness and volume. That has worked so far. It certainly has helped Obama, but on the internet, relying too much on volume is risky.
The same barriers that entrenched liberal media authority in print and on television and radio are much weaker on the internet. Here they can lose. The media’s adaptation to the internet has largely robbed it of its intellectual and moral authority. Its sites have more money and attract bigger advertisers, but those may only be temporary advantages.
The death of the American newspaper may forecast the death of American liberalism.