FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Bad Year for Old Media

Coming as little surprise to those who follow new media, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the organization that audits newspaper and magazine subscription numbers, reported Monday that the average weekday circulation of US newspapers fell by 2.6% between March and September of this year. The New York Times was one of the few papers whose circulation rose (slightly) in the past year, but on the whole, major US dailies lost readers. One of the hardest hit was the San Francisco Chronicle, whose circulation shrank by 16.4% in 2005.

Newspaper readership has been shrinking steadily for decades, with television, shortened attention spans, 24-hour cable news, hectic lifestyles, the Internet and restrictions on telemarketing all blamed for its demise. But newspapers are not alone in their pain, as Chris Anderson of the Long Tail illustrates in his neat summary of media winners and losers.

Down significantly along with newspapers are movies (theatrical releases), music CDs, books and AM/FM radio. Magazine sales are flat. The fragmenting of audiences makes for lower ratings of individual TV shows, though overall viewership is rising. Even the numbers for videogames and DVDs are mixed.

What's rising? Internet use (reflected in the growth in online advertising), digital downloads and streaming of music, and satellite radio (likely to get a shot in the arm once Howard Stern moves to Sirius). Total numbers for these media, however, remain well below those of the old guard.

UPDATE: Newspapers, to their credit, realize that their survival depends on their moving online. The UK's Guardian Newspaper group plans to devote up to 80% of their efforts on digital activities over the next few years, as opposed to 20% now.

UPDATE: Terry Heaton comments on the possible forced sale of Knight-Ridder, the nation's second-largest newspaper publishing chain whose prominent titles include the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald. Though the fate of the chain is far from sealed, Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Dough Clifton sums up the situation by saying, "There's a whole range of options, none of them especially pretty."

UPDATE: In light of its fallen readership numbers, the LA Times plans to eliminate 85 jobs between now and the end of the year. The Chicago Tribune plans "fewer than 100" layoffs within the next several weeks.