Articles in the press across the country today reported a 2.6 percent decline in print circulation nationwide. Some drops were huge (the San Francisco Chronicle down 16.6 percent) and others less so, but still troubling (Boston Globe, 8.2 percent; L.A. Times, 3.6 percent; Washington Post, 2.7 percent). The articles all pointed to two major factors: newspapers trimming back promotional giveaway copies and pruning less-desirable-to-advertiser circulation, and most importantly, the shift of news readership (especially young readers) to online consumption. A good deal of that consumption occurs at newspaper companies' own sites, or is newspaper content consumed at GYM (Google, Yahoo!, MSN) sites, but the stories almost uniformly underplayed that major point.
Outsell's Chuck Richard points out that the industry seems to have a hard time getting its own journalists to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. The New York Times version of the story points out that 47 million people – a third of Internet users – visited newspaper sites in September. None of the stories acknowledge that the real measure is the extent to which users are getting their news online – regardless of whether it's from the newspapers' own sites or elsewhere. This is a fragmented and self-defeating way for news producers to look at their market.
Outsell Affiliate Analyst Ken Doctor believes that this attitude grows out of the newspaper companies' continuing inability to properly monetize their digital content. The companies - other than the WSJ Online Journal success story and the fledgling NY Times Select plan - have failed to come up with any compelling, sustainable subscription models for online content. By relying on Google’s AdWords and Yahoo!’s ContentMatch to monetize their content through contextual advertising - and taking fewer cents on the dollar out of those non-owned transactions - they've failed to grasp and profit from this tough, online transition. Confusion may reign in journalists' accounts because the companies they work for have failed to articulate a bold, new strategy to realign their content with advertising in any way nearly as elegantly and profitably as that old daily hunk of newsprint did.