Newspaper advertising not rebounding

Alan Mutter writes on his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, that advertising revenue has not bounced back as other mediums have in this sluggish economy.

Although television, online, radio and even magazine ad revenues all moved into positive territory by the end of 2010, newspaper sales dropped 6.3%. At the end of last year, annual print and digital newspaper ad sales, which have skidded lower in every quarter since April, 2006, were 47% below the all-time high of $49.4 billion achieved as recently as 2005.

Things got no better in the early days of 2011.

Kicking off a unbroken series of dismal earnings reports for the first quarter of this year, Gannett last week reported that print ad sales fell 7.2% from the same period in 2010. The largest of the publicly held publishers, Gannett’s geographically diversified portfolio of small, medium and large newspapers is something of a barometer, inasmuch as its results have closely mirrored the industry’s over-all performance in the last five tumultuous years.

Via Comics Rerporter

16 thoughts on “Newspaper advertising not rebounding

  1. Weird. I’ve been making more newspaper ads in 2011 than in the past two years. The pricing is a lot cheaper than it was, but the ads apparently work because I’m still being asked to make them.

  2. Stephen,

    One of my friends at our local paper said it’s not the commercial ads, it’s the classifieds.

    Not that the commercial ad revenue is robust, but the classifieds have been decimated by Craigs List.

  3. Well, gee… the newspapers gouge us for classified ad rates for years and years and then they wonder why, when we can advertise cheaper or for free, that nobody wants to pay their
    ripoff prices any more.

  4. That makes sense, Anne. Since they’re liners (and not display ads) I have nothing to do with them. Those classifieds are practically non-existent compared to what they once were. I’m guessing that the money papers get from their online partners (, careerbuilder, etc) is a fraction of what they used to get from their print counterparts.

  5. @Paul,

    I’m currently debating a gouge for an ad I’m making. A 2X5 help wanted ad (with presence on Career Builder) shouldn’t be $999. Seems a little pricey. Still, it’s for a paper with a 500,000 plus circ on Sundays, and there’s not much room for debate with them.

    At least it’s not my money.

  6. @Paul,

    Of course you are absolutely right. I cannot think of another branch of media where the general public even advertises in the first place so it stands to reason they would be the first to bail when something free came along 🙂

  7. No wonder the New York Daily News cut back to 2 pages of daily comics in March 2011!

  8. Stephen, at least you are getting some work making up display ads. I’m told by local designers many of the Gannett papers are sending display work to India, putting a number of artists out of business in cities where Gannett owns papers. This in addition to consolidating page layout to regional offices.

  9. This would be like measuring performance of all automakers based on how a pre-bailout GM was being run. Ford and Honda would take issue with that. Gannett is but one of many private
    and public publishers.

  10. Read the article, not just the excerpt, Jeff — there are several other companies whose results are similar.

    I’ve worked in both newspapers and TV, and the truism was that (beyond impulse purchases like fast food) TV ads create demand while newspaper ads provided buyer information. That is, you sit and watch the ads for Ford trucks while you are watching football, but you don’t take action until you are ready for a truck. Then you look in the paper to see what your local Ford dealer has for sale. This holds true for many categories beyond automobiles, like electronics, clothing, etc.

    But now two factors come into play when I reach that purchase point: If I go to the paper, I don’t see much selection because the advertisers don’t by as many ads anymore. So the newspaper becomes less important to me because it’s less important to them and around we go in a circle.

    I bought my last car through I check electronics at a number of places, including and some aggregators of electronics advertising. I found my last two full-time jobs at

    This all comes from the hare-brained, Emperor’s New Clothes decision back in the early, early 90s to start giving away content because the Internet was going to make us all rich. But that’s like grousing over the fact that the captain shouldn’t have hit the iceberg. Yes. He shouldn’t have hit the iceberg. Now shut up, put on your life jacket, get in the boat and start rowing.

  11. A few years back a blog written by an industry insider gained
    national attention for its list of 10 major daily papers it said
    would stop publishing print editions by the end of that year or the next. Included in that list was paper close to home. It was laughable because papers mentioned had actually posted a profit
    and continue to publish today.

    It’s interesting to me that the people most often sounding the
    death call for print are people who are now in the online business.

    This past Sunday I picked up the Sunday edition of a smaller daily in Ohio not owned by Gannett or other chains mentioned.
    This paper not only had a distinct auto ad section loaded with full page dealer ads it had full and half page page dealer ads in all the other sections of the paper. And this is a paper published in an area with another mid-size daily and a major daily plus two weekly chains. The boats are still on Lake Erie and they have motors with gas in the tank.

  12. Yes, there ARE things that can be done and Jeff is right that the medium is not entirely dead. But it has changed, and not for the first time.

    If you look at papers from the 30s, they had product ads for things like soap and cereal. TV took those away. Newspapers had big ads for movies down into the 60s, because a limited number of prints meant that movies were “bicycled” from market to market. Today, they open at the same time everywhere, so the “ads” are just tombstone listings of starting times. So the Internet is not the first threat to advertising revenues — though if you’re shot four or five times, it may not matter whether any of the bullets hit a vital organ.

    Still, small, local papers can have a viable role, but they need to define and understand it. You can’t be “local” when some beancounter at corporate HQ is calling the shots. You can’t be “local” when HQ keeps rotating publishers in and out like so many interchangeable garden gnomes.

    And you can’t be local if you’re too proud to run pictures of Cub Scout award ceremonies and fishing tournaments, or columns about the chicken dinner at First Baptist and who is home from Iraq.

    There are boats, but they’re small and few. And, unfortunately, they don’t all have room for syndicated material. Trust me, I’ve edited one.

  13. Mike Peterson:

    “This all comes from the hare-brained, Emperor?s New Clothes decision back in the early, early 90s to start giving away content because the Internet was going to make us all rich. But that?s like grousing over the fact that the captain shouldn?t have hit the iceberg. Yes. He shouldn?t have hit the iceberg. Now shut up, put on your life jacket, get in the boat and start rowing.” makes money. Even if you had charged in the 90’s, someone would have come and charged nothing anyway, to undercut you. The marginal costs of new users online are just too low.

    The fact you can charge to make billions doing something another guy can do for free and make a hundred million does not in anyway discourage the guy who wants the hundred million. The free economy was never under the press’s control to make happen or not. In competitive markets, which the print media wasn’t during most of the post war era, the producers don’t get to dictate pricing models.

  14. Well, there you go. makes money, therefore it was inevitable that newspapers would put their content on-line for free.

    My son learned to talk. Why hasn’t my dog done the same?

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