June 1, 2015

Last year circulation revenues inched ahead of advertising for the world’s newspapers, according to a report out today from the trade group WAN-IFRA.

For 2014, circulation generated $92 billion compared to $87 billion for advertising, according to a world press trends survey released as WAN-IFRA begins its annual World Congress meeting in Washington.

“The basic assumption of the news business model — the subsidy that advertisers have long provided to news content — is gone…,” Larry Kilman, secretary-general of WAN-IFRA, commented in a release. “This is a seismic shift from a strong business-to-business emphasis – publishers to advertisers – to a growing business-to-consumer emphasis, publishers to audiences.”

The circulation-ad split varies around the world.  Some European and Asian papers, with high single-copy prices and a reliance on newsstand sales, have been 50-50 for years. In the United States, however, until the print ad declines of the last eight years, advertising provided roughly 80 percent of revenue.

The survey, compiled from a variety of sources, provides a number of other headlines about the state of the business worldwide.

  • Despite strong growth in digital subscriptions and advertising, print still provides 93 percent of revenues. Print will continue to be the major source of revenue for years to come, the survey suggests.
  • A total of 2.7 billion people read newspapers in print and another 770 million on desktop digital platforms. Print and digital audience combined appear to be increasing. In Australia, the United Kingdom and Chile, more than 80 percent of adults read newspapers on some platform.
  • Print circulation, led by particularly strong increases in India, was up 6.4 percent globally in 2014.  Latin America and the Middle East and Africa experienced growth.  Circulation was down in North America, Europe and Australia.
  • Conversely, print advertising declined 5.2 percent for the year with the biggest losses in North America (7.5 percent), Asia (6.5 percent) and Europe (5 percent).  Advertising was up for Latin American and Middle East papers.
  • Digital advertising was up 8.5 percent in 2014, but “will not replace high-yield print advertising.”

In the digital sphere, the survey noted that desktop audiences fell for the first time as mobile use continues to surge. While praising the industry for investment and innovation in digital, the report included a pointed push for better metrics:

Though newspapers are now ubiquitous on all media platforms, the measure of their reach and influence continues to be mired in the 20th century, largely relying on print circulation and a variety of separate, non-standardized measures of digital reach. The challenge for the industry is to measure reach of newspaper content on all platforms with new metrics.

The survey also includes a breakdown of average daily time spent with various media:

    • Smartphone — 97 minutes.
    • Tablet — 37 minutes.
    • Television — 81 minutes.
    • Desktop — 70 minutes.
    • Radio — 44 minutes.
    • Print — 33 minutes.

A separate report today from Zenith Optimedia finds overall time with media up slightly in 2014, but a continuing swing away from traditional media to various forms of digital. Zenith found time spent reading newspapers in print had fallen 24 percent since 2010 and projected further declines by 2017.

To my mind, the statistics highlight one of the challenges for the transformation of legacy companies:  how to keep the cash cow of print as strong as it can be for as long as possible until the digital business model matures.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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