US newspaper print circulation declines, but digital subscriptions rising

Via Unsplash

Print newspapers continue their predictable pace of decline in the US. But for digital subscriptions, there is still vast potential for global expansion.

The takeaways:
  • Analysis of print newspaper sales by Press Gazette shows that the US’s largest newspapers have lost more than 30% of their print circulation since the 2016 election.
  • The Wall Street Journal is the only newspaper with a print circulation close to a million (994,600). Even that has declined 16% since Q3 2016.
  • However, both the ‘Trump Bump’ and the ‘Covid Bump’ have been beneficial in driving digital subscriptions. For news publishers in the same timeframe, the WSJ and New York Times now have 2m+ and 6m+ paid digital subscribers respectively.

The most severe drop has been seen by USA Today.  It went from 883,885 print subscribers in 2016 to 486,579 in 2020; a fall of 45%. 

However, Sunday editions have been continuing to do well in the US. The New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post all have significantly higher circulations on Sundays than they do during the week. There, the decline is less pronounced.

Going digital

According to subscription platform Piano, new subscriptions jumped as much as 97% in March among US publishers. Here are just a few examples of publishers who have seen digital subscription surges this year.

  • The Atlantic has gained 300,000 new subscribers between September 2019 and September 2020. 45% of them are paying $59.99 per year for both the print edition and digital access. Their initial goal was 110,000.
  • The New York Times grew digital subscriptions by a record 587,000 in the first quarter of 2020. 80% of these new subscribers were driven by news content.
  • Tribune Publishing saw a 293% increase in new digital subscriptions in March. This is despite suspending almost all of its first-time subscriber discounts.

Telling a story: A number of US bodies used to publish circulation data on a regular basis, but few now bother. The feeling among publishing professionals is that print decline is continual and predictable, and no longer tell the full story.

  • “Print is a good product that a lot of people like and is still solidly profitable,” the News Media Alliance’s Chief Executive David Chavern told Press Gazette. “But, as with a lot of industries, the public is moving consistently to digital consumption.  There are real benefits to that, including the fact that our overall audience is much higher than any at point in history.”

Worth noting: When it comes to retention – a key battleground for next year – non-trial subscriptions have a higher retention rate than trials in news publishing, according to Piano.

You may also like

Comments are closed.