Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hard hit as more and more Americans consume news digitally. The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the early 2000s, even as website audience traffic has grown for many. Meanwhile, alt-weekly papers have also seen their circulation drop. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about U.S. newspapers below.
Total estimated circulation for U.S. daily newspapers
Note: To determine totals for 2015 onward, researchers analyzed the year-over-year change in total weekday and Sunday circulation using AAM data and applied these percent changes to the previous year’s total. Only those daily U.S. newspapers that report to AAM are included. Affiliated publications are not included in the analysis. Weekday circulation only includes those publications reporting a Monday-Friday average. For each year, the comparison is for all newspapers meeting these criteria for the three-month period ending Dec. 31 of the given year. Comparisons are between the three-month averages for the period ending Dec. 31 of the given year and the same period of the previous year.Source: Editor & Publisher (through 2014); estimation based on Pew Research Center analysis of Alliance for Audited Media data (2015-2016). PEW RESEARCH CENTER
The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2016 was 35 million for weekday and 38 million for Sunday, both of which fell 8% over the previous year. Declines were highest in print circulation: Weekday print circulation decreased 10% and Sunday circulation decreased 9%. (Note that in this fact sheet, and in the chart above, data through 2014 are from Editor & Publisher, which were published on the website of the News Media Alliance (NMA), known at the time as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Since then, as the NMA/NAA no longer supplies these data, the Center determined the year-over-year change in total circulation for those daily U.S. newspapers that report to the Alliance for Audited Media and meet certain criteria, as detailed in the note of the chart above. This percentage change was then applied to the total circulation from the prior year. Thus the use of the term “estimated total circulation.”)
Digital circulation is more difficult to gauge. Three of the highest-circulation daily papers in the U.S. – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – have in recent years not fully reported their digital circulation to the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), the group that audits the circulation figures of many of the largest North American newspapers and other publications. Two of these papers report such digital circulation elsewhere: The New York Times in their financial statements and The Wall Street Journal in reports available on the Dow Jones website. (The Washington Post does not fully report digital circulation in any forum.) But because they may not be counted under the same rules used by AAM, these independently produced figures cannot easily be merged with the Alliance data.
Taking these complexities into account, using the AAM data, digital circulation in 2016 was projected to have been roughly steady, with weekday down 1% and Sunday up 1%. If the independently produced figures from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were included in both 2015 and 2016, however, rather than remaining steady, weekday digital circulation would have risen by 11%.
This would also change the overall picture for combined print and digital circulation. Including the digital boost driven by these two large, national brands would still result in an overall drop in circulation year to year but a smaller one: Overall weekday circulation would have fallen by 4% in 2016 rather than 8%.
Newspaper website unique visitors
Note: For each year, the average traffic for each website for October/November/December was calculated; the data point represents the overall average of those numbers. Analysis is of the top 49 newspapers by average Sunday circulation for Q3 2015 and Q3 2016, according to Alliance for Audited Media data, with the addition of The Wall Street Journal. For each newspaper, the comScore entity matching its homepage URL was analyzed.Source: comScore Media Metrix Multi-platform, unique visitors, October-December 2014, 2015 and 2016. PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Gauging digital audience for the entire newspaper industry is difficult since many daily newspapers do not receive enough traffic to their websites to be measured by comScore, the data source relied on here. Thus, the figures offered above reflect the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers based on circulation. In the fourth quarter of 2016, there was an average of roughly 11.7 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers. This is a 21% increase from 2015, similar to the 18% rise from 2014-2015. (The list of top 50 papers is based on Sunday circulation but also includes The Wall Street Journal, which does not have any Sunday circulation; for more details, see our methodology.)
Newspaper website minutes per visit
Note: For each year, the average minutes per visit for each website for October/November/December was calculated; the data point represents the overall average of those numbers. Analysis is of the top 49 newspapers by average Sunday circulation for Q3 2015 and Q3 2016, according to Alliance for Audited Media data, with the addition of The Wall Street Journal. For each newspaper, the comScore entity matching its homepage URL was analyzed.Source: comScore Media Metrix Multi-platform, unique visitors, October-December 2014, 2015 and 2016. PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Average minutes per visit for the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, is about two and a half minutes. This decreased just slightly, falling 5% from 2015.
Alt-weekly newspaper average circulation
Note: Data reflect most recent audit statement, if one is available for that year; if not, the most recent publisher's statement was used.Source: Alliance for Audited Media, Verified Audit Circulation, Circulation Verification Council, and self-reported data. PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Beyond daily newspapers, many U.S. cities have what are known as “alt-weekly” papers – weekly newspapers, generally distributed for free, which put a heavy focus on arts and culture. Average circulation for the top 20 U.S. alt-weekly papers is just over 61,000, a 6% decline from 2015.
Newspaper industry estimated advertising and circulation revenue
Source: News Media Alliance, formerly Newspaper Association of America, (through 2012); Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings of publicly traded newspaper companies (2013-2016). PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Turning back to the newspaper industry as a whole, the total estimated newspaper industry advertising revenue for 2016 was $18 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This decreased 10% from 2015. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11 billion, which is roughly on par with 2015 (rise of 0.4%).
In the chart above, data through 2012 come from the trade group formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), now known as the News Media Alliance (NMA). Data from 2013 onward is based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements from publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies, which now number seven and account for around a quarter of all U.S. daily newspapers, from large national papers to mid-size metro dailies to local papers. For each year through 2012, the year-over-year percentage change in advertising and circulation revenue for these companies is calculated and then applied to the previous year’s revenue totals as reported by the NMA/NAA. In testing this method, changes from 2004-2012 generally matched those as reported by the NMA/NAA; for more details, see our 2016 report.
Percentage of newspaper advertising revenue coming from digital
Source: Pew Research Center analysis of year-end SEC filings for publicly traded newspaper companies that break out digital advertising revenue for each year. PEW RESEARCH CENTER
Digital advertising accounted for 29% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2016, based on this same analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. This is up from a quarter in 2015 and 17% in 2011.
Newspaper newsroom employment
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics. PEW RESEARCH CENTER
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES), in 2015 (the last year available) 41,400 people worked as reporters or editors in the newspaper industry, down 4% from 2014 and 37% from 2004.
In previous years, data came from an annual audit of newsroom employment performed by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). As of 2016, ASNE stopped reporting the total number of employees (instead reporting a percentage change in employment). As such, newsroom employment figures are now based on OES data.
This fact sheet was compiled by Michael Barthel, who is a research associate focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.