the fate of traditional print media

Traditional print media are facing major challenges from digital communications networks that allow everybody to share written words at low cost.  The U.S. newspaper industry reports tremendous opportunities and exhibits fiery indignation at the newspaper industry’s ongoing meltdown.  As recent analysis has highlighted, general-interest mass-market periodicals seem to have lost any special value as a source of information and ideas.  Google makes many books freely available in digital form through its Google Books project, and Google Books is now available on mobile devices.  Sales of e-book readers from Sony and Amazon (Kindle) may have totaled a million in 2008, or perhaps a half-million. Amazon recently announced Kindle 2.  It includes text-to-speech technology that reads ebooks to those who have purchased them. Traditional print newspapers, periodicals, and books are now only some media possibilities for obtaining similar written information, stories, and entertainment.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Service Annual Survey indicates that, among traditional U.S. print media, newspapers are particularly badly positioned.  From 2004 to 2007, newspaper publishers’ non-print revenue  has risen only from 4% to 5% of total newspaper revenue. Periodical publishes’ non-print revenue, in contrast, has risen from 7% to 11% of total periodical revenue.  Book publishers’ non-print revenue seems to depend quite strongly on the survey reports’ categorization of firms; from 1998 to 2000, about 20% of book publishers’ revenue was reported as non-print revenue, while the figures for 2004 to 2007 are about 6%. This difference may reflect what firms produce audio books and multi-media books.  Relative to periodical publishers and book publishers, newspaper publishers have developed relatively little non-print revenue.

Advertising revenue figures provide another perspective on traditional print media.  From 2004 to 2007, advertising revenue accounted for about 70% of newspaper publishers’ total content publishing revenue.  Over that same period, advertising revenue accounted for about 45% of periodical publishers’ total content publishing revenue and probably close to zero of book publishers’ revenue. Newspapers are heavily reliant on print advertising.  At the same time, online advertising offers much better opportunities for measuring and tracking effects of advertising expenditure.  Newspaper publishers need larger and more rapid change in their business model in order to survive.

Data note:

Here are print, online, and other non-print content revenue for newspaper, periodical, and book publishers from 1998 to 2007.  These data are from the Information and Communication Industry Revenue Dataset.

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