For the last several years, I’ve been regularly posting charts like the one above showing the history of US newspaper advertising revenue back to 1950, based on quarterly and annual data from the Newspaper Association of America. Those charts have been noteworthy for several reasons.
First, more than any of the hundreds of charts and graphs that I’ve created and posted on Carpe Diem over the last seven years, the newspaper ad revenue charts have received the most attention by far. Those charts have been featured on so many other blogs and websites that a recent Reuters article referred to my most recent version as the “much-reproduced chart.” I hope this is a testament to how powerful and compelling the graphical representation of data can be!
Second, it’s possible that the attention the ad revenue charts were generating on the Internet may have contributed to the decision by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) last year to suddenly stop its long-standing practice of reporting quarterly advertising revenue data and switch to releasing only annual data. In a 2013 interview, NAA CEO Caroline Little was quoted as saying that she and the organization’s board decided it was “time to stop beating themselves up four times a year with the negative numbers.”
Without access to quarterly data, I’ll now only be able to update the charts and report newspaper ad revenue once a year when annual data are released in April by the NAA, which just released its ad revenue figures for 2013. 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.
Here’s another perspective: It took a half century for annual newspaper print ad revenue to gradually increase from $20 billion in 1950 (adjusted for inflation in 2013 dollars) to $65.8 billion in 2000, and then it took only 12 years to go from $65.8 billion in ad revenues back to less than $20 billion in 2012, before falling further to $17.3 billion last year.
Even when revenues from digital advertising and other categories described by the NAA as “niche publications, direct marketing and non-daily publication advertising” are added to print ad revenue (see red line in chart), the combined total revenues for print, digital and other advertising last year was still only $23.56 billion in 2013 dollars, which was the lowest amount of annual ad revenue since 1954, when $23.3 billion was spent on print advertising alone.
The introduction of digital advertising starting in 2003, and the introduction of “niche publications, direct marketing and non-daily publication advertising” in 2011, have helped to slightly increase total ad revenues (print + digital + other), and the red line in the chart shows the contribution of those other revenue sources. But those sources are relatively small in comparison to print advertising revenues, and haven’t stopped the continuing, overall decline in total ad revenues. For example, digital advertising increased only 1.5% last year, the niche/non-daily category fell by almost 6% and direct marketing increased only 2.4%. Print advertising fell last year by 8.6%, and overall total advertising revenue fell by 6.5%. Those new revenues sources are certainly helping to stop the revenue decline from being even steeper, but won’t likely ever be high enough to reverse the precipitous overall decline in ad revenues in the coming years.
Economic Lesson: The dramatic decline in newspaper ad revenues since 2000 has to be one of the most significant and profound Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction in the last decade, maybe in a generation. And it’s not even close to being over. 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.