New data shows newspaper revenues down sharply

Newspaper publishers have seen revenues drop by more than half in the last two decades, as the internet disrupts advertising markets that once funded tens of thousands of jobs in newsrooms across the country.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows newspaper publishers collected about $22.1 billion in revenue in 2020, less than half the amount they collected in 2002, according to the Bureau’s Service Annual Survey.

Revenues declined by nearly 28 percent between 2002 and 2010, according to the survey, and by another nearly 34 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Periodical publishers, who print and distribute magazines, scholarly and scientific journals and religious publications, saw their revenues decline by nearly as much, from $40.2 billion in 2002 to $23.9 billion in 2020.

Publishers took the biggest hits from a rapid decline in the value of advertising they sold. Since 2013, the revenues generated from subscriptions and sales of newspapers increased by about 10 percent, from just under $8 billion to about $8.8 billion. But advertising sales plummeted, from $16 billion in 2013 to just over $10 billion in 2020, accounting for virtually all of the lost revenue over those seven years.

The culprits are clear: Over the same time period, revenues generated by internet publishing and broadcasting firms and web search portals — companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon — saw advertising revenues skyrocket. More recent data from the Service Annual Survey shows advertising across those platforms more than triple, from $49.3 billion in 2013 to $160 billion in 2020.

“The rise of digital media and technology has transformed the way we access our news and entertainment,” wrote Adam Grundy, a supervisory statistician in the Census Bureau’s Economic Management Division. “It’s also had a devastating impact on print publishing industries.”

News businesses have responded to the drop in revenue by shedding jobs and consolidating operations. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey shows the total number of newsroom employees peaked in 2006, at about 74,000. By 2020, that number had dropped to just over 30,000.

By comparison, that means more Americans work at firms like Kellogg’s, the cereal maker, and Sprouts Farmers Market, the niche super market with locations in 23 states, than work in all American newsrooms.

The internet’s prevalence in Americans’ news consumption diets has forced publishers to adapt to the modern reality of digital life. Companies like The New York Times and The Washington Post tout record numbers of digital subscribers who are willing to pay for news online, and unique visitors to newspaper websites are up across the board.

A Pew Research Center analysis of Comscore Media Metrix data shows the 50 largest newspapers in the United States attracted an average of 13.8 million unique visitors per month in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from 8.2 million in 2014.

At the same time, people are giving up their dead-tree editions of the paper. Total weekday circulation of top papers, compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media, has dropped from 34.6 million in 2016 to 24.3 million in 2020. The share of Americans who receive a daily newspaper is about half what it was in 2007, and down from a peak of 63 million in 1984.