Dropping Newspaper Circulation and Quality – A Vicious Cycle

We noted the latest newspaper circulation numbers just yesterday. Ken Doctor, over at the Content Bridges blog, has an interesting take on why circ. numbers continue to fall for newspapers. Anyone who’s taken a buyout or been laid off from a newsroom in the past year will read this and like say, “Amen.”

In the last year, we’ve seen unprecedented cuts in the product — and the customers are noticing. It looks like the amount of newsprint is down about 10-15%; some in stories, some in ads. Trusted bylines have disappeared overnight. Readers notice, and talk to their friends, and they’re saying: it’s not the newspaper it used to be. When the subscription notices come, they’re a little less likely to be acted upon.

In a sense, newspapers have been slaughtering the cash cows — print revenues still drive more than 85% of the business — a bit too fast. No doubt, what we’re talking about big picture is the transition of the business from print to digital. What today’s numbers show is that the movement is accelerating, an acceleration caused both by larger forces (younger readers preferring online, the new green revolution) and by publishers’ own cost-cutting. The continuing crunch issue in that: readers online are still worth no more than a dime compared to the dollar in print. So while slashing print costs is a necessity, it is robbing print revenue at the same time.

So while newspaper publishers cut expenses to preserve profit, they harm the editorial quality of their product, leading to more profit declines, necessitating even more cuts. It’s the classic cliche, the vicious cycle. (More from Doctor here.)

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