April 30, 2015

If the newspaper industry’s future is of necessity a digital one, its task may verge on the Sisyphean, according to the annual Pew Research Center report on the state of the media.

“Despite widespread talk of a shift to digital, most newspaper readership continues to be in print,” it declared. “Online, more traffic to the top newspaper websites and associated apps comes from mobile than from desktop users, and the average visitor only stays on the site for three minutes per visit.”

“And several larger media conglomerates spun off their newspaper divisions as separate companies in an attempt to prevent the newspaper industry’s woes from affecting the health of their broadcast divisions.”

What is becoming a frustrating theme was reiterated: “Revenue from circulation rose, but ad revenue continued to fall, with gains in digital ad revenue failing to make up for falls in print ad revenue.”

That worrisome trajectory has endured clearly for five years, the report states: “Print ads have produced less revenue (down 5%), while digital ads have produced more revenue (up 3%) – but not enough to make up for the fall in print revenue. Print ad revenue fell 4%, to just $16.4 billion.”

According to the study, five companies account for 61 percent of U.S. digital ad revenue, or $30.9 billion out of a total $50.7 billion. They are Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL.

Admittedly, their total share has dropped a small bit, about 1 percent each year since 2010. But they’re still kings of the digital hill, with Google leading the way, accounting for 38 percent, or $19.3 billion, which constitutes a decline from the 40 percent of total digital revenue it had as recently as 2013.

When it comes to digital traffic of newspaper, many of those leaders are also those papers with the biggest circulation in the U.S. But there are some exceptions with a distinctly international flavor, the report notes.

There are no less than five British-based media outlets in the list of top 25 newspaper websites and related apps, according to Pew’s crunch of comScore data.

Those are: the Mail Online (third-highest in traffic on Pew Research’s list), the Guardian (fifth), the Daily Telegraph (10th), the Mirror (12th) and the Independent (14th).

One of the biggest U.S. papers, the Wall Street Journal, didn’t make the list due to a peculiarity, namely due to comScore’s database classified it as “Business/Finance,” as opposed to “General News” and “Newspapers,” the categories Pew analyzed.

Further crunching online news audiences, Pew finds rather dramatic disparities even in dissecting the top 50 and top 10 news websites and associated apps.

“Even among the top 10, though, total website and associated app audience varies dramatically – from roughly 130 million at the Yahoo-ABC digital network to just over 50 million for the U.K.-based Daily Mail. At the bottom of this top-50 list, The Dallas Morning News attracted 7 million visitors in the sample month of study.”

Alan Mutter, a longtime newspaper industry analyst and consultant in San Francisco, suggested that the Pew report in some fashion understates the newspaper industry’s woes. That includes changes in methodology for how one counts print circulation that masks an even worse situation.

On the digital front, he said he awaits what revenues the industry’s association is still to report for 2014. “But we can say that the newspaper industry’s share of the U.S. digital advertising market slumped from 16 percent in 2005 to 8 percent in 2013, the latest year for which sales have been reported by NAA (the association).”

What he calls the growing reliance on smartphones “will accelerate the trend, making it very difficult — if not impossible — for publishers to catch up.”

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
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