U.S. newspapers' revenue structure, 1880-2007

Traditional print newspapers’ current troubles have roots early in the twentieth century. In 1880, newspapers’ revenue structure was quite diversified.  Subscription revenue and print revenue was evenly balanced, with each accounting for about 40% of total revenue.  Other revenue (job printing, book binding, and other miscellaneous revenue sources) amounted to about 20% of  total revenue.

By 1929, newspapers’ subscription revenue was only about one third of advertising revenue.  Periodicals, which were usually reported with newspapers in Census Bureau reports, typically had slightly higher subscription revenue than did newspapers.  The regularly reported data for newspapers and periodicals clearly shows subscription revenue dropping continually relative to advertising revenue from 1880 to 1929. Occasionally reported data for newspapers, along with the fact that newspapers generated about twice as much revenue as periodicals, implies that the newspaper and periodicals’ trend is a good indicator for newspapers alone. The newspaper business grew strongly from 1880 to 1929.  Newspapers’ success as an advertising vehicle drove that growth.

By 2007, newspapers’ subscription revenue amounted to only 19% of total revenue, while advertising and other revenue amounted to 69% and 12%, respectively. A major challenge for newspapers is to grow rapidly subscription revenue and other revenue and to achieve a revenue structure more like that of newspapers in 1880.

Updated note: Here’s comprehensive data on the revenue structure of U.S. newspapers and periodicals from 1880 to 2007. Available also as an Excel file. Some additional discussion of historical print media economics.

Update 2: Data now through 2008 via the 2008 Services Annual Survey.

COB-34: bureaucratic recordkeeping


Recordkeeping is a core bureaucratic function. A recent scientific article, while cowardly eschewing the term bureaucracy, described these findings from economic experiments investigating recordkeeping:

Recordkeeping improves memory of past interactions in a complex exchange environment, which promotes reputation formation and decision coordination. Economies with recordkeeping exhibit a beneficially altered economic history where the risks of exchanging with strangers are substantially lessened.[1]

Bureaucrats engaged in recordkeeping develop reputations, coordinate decisions, and reduce risks. Can anyone doubt that bureaucrats beneficially altered economic history?

Ancient Mesopotamian civilization also demonstrates the importance of bureaucratic recordkeeping. Writing in ancient Mesopotamia arose from accounting, a particular type of recordkeeping. Even more noteworthy is that the most frequently copied record in ancient Mesopotamia was a list of titles and professions, arranged in a status hierarchy. The king topped the list, followed by “leader of justice,” “leader of the city,” “leader of the plow,” “leader of barley,” etc. This pioneering org chart was continuously copied in ancient Mesopotamia from 5000 to 4000 years ago. With 165 copies existing just in the corpus of surviving records from Uruk from about 5000 years ago, the org chart undoubtedly is a record of great importance.[2] Not just recordkeeping, but bureaucratic recordkeeping was at the center of ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Other items in the bureaucratic record:

H. Josef Hebert at The Huffington Post describes the Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fighting for jurisdiction over wind energy projects. This is an extremely promising development. Nothing can do more to generate wind than bureaucratic turf battles.

Hoystory notes the California Air Resources Board’s concern about black cars. Because black paint adsorbs more energy from sunlight than other colors, black cars require more energy to air-condition. We applaud this bureaucratic body for busily evaluating means to combat air pollution and global warming.

Mark J. Perry at Carpe Diem describes the New York State Insurance Department requiring a doctor to change his rate structure in order to avoid being regulated as an insurance entity. Bureaucracies are frequently accused of incessantly seeking more turf. We applaud the NYS Insurance Department for trying to help a doctor avoid insurance-company regulation.

Jeff Fecke at Blog of the Moderate Left notes that bureaucrats run the health care system. That’s comforting. He also observes:

The phone company, the cable company, the credit card company, the health insurance company — these are who Americans think of now when bureaucrats are mentioned.

These bureaucracies are at the center of modern American civilization. Ancient Mesopotamians would be pleased to see fruits of their historical leadership.

Beautiful Fractals displays an artwork entitled, “#24 – The Average Bureaucrat.” Truly beautiful.

In Bhutan, government bureaucrats are being laid off. That’s an ominous development for Bhutan. I suggest further study of whether this action is warranted.

In Russia, the number of government bureaucrats has doubled over the past year. This is a clear indication of further development of Russian civilization in accordance with the ancient Mesopotamian model.

Mike Masnick at Techdirt fails to appreciate newspapers’ bureaucratic development.  He declares to be false “the idea that because most journalism originates from newspapers today, it must continue to do so in the future.”  Concern for continuity, resistance to change, and perseverance in producing a series of similar documents are signs of bureaucratic excellence.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival’s regulations. Past editions of the Carnival of Bureaucrats can be found on the Carnival’s category page.


[1] Basu, Sudipta, John Dickhaut, Gary Hecht, Kristy Towry, and Gregory Waymire, “Recordkeeping alters economic history by promoting reciprocity,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 27, 2009, v. 106, n. 4, p. 1009.

[2] Nissen, Hans Jörg, Peter Damerow, and Robert K. Englund. Archaic Bookkeeping: Early Writing and Techniques of Economic Administration in the Ancient Near East. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 106.

responding to the maharaja and the ogre

Garden & Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, a recent, magnificent exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, included paintings memorializing the life of Maharaja Bakhat Singh. He was an eighteenth-century Rathore-Rajput ruler of the Jodhpur-Marwar kingdom, now in the Indian state of Rajasthan. A number of paintings depict the royal, cultured Bakhat Singh at his Nagaur Palace in a garden amidst a crowd of beautiful young women. They rub his legs, bring him food, play music for him, and bath with him. In one painting, Bakhat Singh, bare-chested in a large garden pool with twenty-one young women, playfully squirts, with an elongated pumping toy, water at one of the women.[1] Being a ruler gave Bakhat Singh extraordinary pleasure.

Before the Sackler Gallery’s exhibition re-introduced them to the international art world, the Nagaur Palace garden paintings had never been published and apparently were largely unknown. Why these paintings were not previously celebrated isn’t explained in the exhibition or accompanying book. Perhaps the paintings’ subject matter was a cause of intercultural moral concern in the past. Some tragic history may also have caused unease: Bakhat Singh gained his position in Nagaur by killing his father, the reigning ruler of Marwar. The book accompanying the exhibition explains:

It is unknown whether Abhai Singh [the eldest son] incited the murder so he could gain the throne for himself or, as was rumored at the time, Bakhat Singh was enraged that his father was having an illicit affair with his daughter-in-law, Bakhat Singh’s wife. Perhaps, as some historians have speculated, it was a joint effort formulated by the brothers to further their dual political and personal agendas. What is known is that when Abhai Singh returned to Jodhpur in late 1724, he gave Nagaur to Bakhat Singh in what many have interpreted as a reward for the murder. The Rathore nobles, however, never forgave this monstrous act. They found the patricide so abhorrent that no prominent structure was built for Abhai Singh at Mandore, the strikingly picturesque Rathore ancestral site where Marwar rajas’ deaths are honored with elaborately carved, red sandstone cenotaphs.[2]

Bakhat Singh’s Nagaur Palace garden paintings were not created to evoke horror and pity.  Appreciating the pleasure they depict requires only a simple heart.


The Tale of Shuten Dōji, now on exhibit at the Sackler, depicts a morally sanctioned response to a male with unauthorized, wicked relations with beautiful young women. The tale of Shuten Dōji goes back in illustrated form to fourteenth-century Japan or earlier. Shuten Dōji is a demon-ogre typically depicted as large, ugly, stupid, and barbaric. He kidnaps beautiful young women to serve him at his castle-fortress. The emperor dispatches samurai to rescue the women and destroy the ogre. Carrying out this mission leads to a series of prototypical incidents involving wise men, a distressed woman, some brave women, a magic potion, and disguises. Ultimately, the samurai prevail in a ferocious battle. They behead Shuten Dōji and kill many of his demon-helpers. They rescue many beautiful women from the ogre. Returning the women to the city, the samurai parade through the streets and display Shuten Dōji’s head on a cart.

An early nineteenth-century Japanese wall hanging depicts Shuten Dōji with food and two beautiful women amidst blossoming cherry trees.  While one of his demon-helpers kneels on the ground in a guarding position, Shuten Dōji, in attractive human form, sits on a tiger skin.  The two women wear lavish, noble dress and have extraordinarily long, black hair.  One woman serves sake to Shuten Dōji, who does not look at her but rather gazes out on the cherry blossoms.  Below, a lone woman washes a kimono undergarment in a stream.  The remaining parts of the voluminous kimono rest on the river bank.  The kimono belongs to one of Shuten Dōji’s unpictured female victims.  The wall hanging is large, about 1 by 2.5 meters, and sumptuous, made from gold on silk.  It presents an elegant composition with hints of barbarism and horror.  It is a well-designed as a noble incitement to anger and retribution.[3]

The tale of Shuten Dōji was represented in a variety of media and became known throughout all levels of Japanese society. As a treasure made for the royal Japanese court about the year 1700, the tale of Shuten Dōji was represented in three, 20-meter long scrolls illustrated with color ink, silver, and gold on silk.  A noted painter made the illustrations, and an imperial prince and two other noblemen contributed calligraphy. Two large six-section folding screens, dating from 1625-1650, display scenes using ink and gold on paper scenes. During the Edo Period (1615-1868), the tale of Shuten Dōji was also depicted on lavish hanging scrolls and arrangements of multiple paper fans.[4]

The tale of Shuten Dōji was also represented through much more modest means. In nineteenth-century Japan, the tale was depicted in small, printed books with black-and-white woodcut illustrations and very little text.[5]  The book was relatively cheap and accessible to the illiterate. At the end of the nineteenth century, the tale of Shuten Dōji, with English text, was printed in Japan in a small, color-illustrated book series entitled “Japanese Fairy Tales.” Book no. 19, Ogres of Oeyama, is on display in the Sackler exhibition. Book no. 18, The Ogre’s Arm, is available online. Drawing on popular English Gothic clichés, the text at one point declares, “It happened one dark and stormy night….” The Japanese fairy tale series seems to be designed for middle-class Japanese readers eager to learn to read English novels.

Male sexual desire is a powerful motivating force. It plays out within interpersonal fields of authority, resentment, and anger.  Resentment and anger at an imaginary ogre’s access to women was probably easier to generate and distribute than appreciation for a historical ruler’s fantastic sensual delights.

*  *  *  *  *

The Tale of Shuten Dōji is ongoing at the Sackler Gallery through September 20, 2009.


[1] “Maharaja Bakhat Singh Rejoices during Holi,” Nagaur, ca. 1748-50, Mehrangarh Museum Trust, catalog number 20, in Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2008).  For a similar painting, click on the upper right thumbnail for the online gallery.

[2] Glynn, Catherine, “Rathore and Mughal Interactions: Artistic Development at the Nagaur Court, 1600-1751” p. 14, in Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur.

[3] “Shuten Dōji on Mount Oe Viewing Cherry Blossoms,” Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), from the Feinberg Collection, USA.

[4]  Kano Shōun illustrated the scrolls, which include calligraphy by Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Kuninaga (1667-1726).  All the works described here, unless otherwise noted, are on display in the exhibition.  Some of the works can be seen online here.

[5] The exhibition displays such a book with illustrations by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849): Ehon Wakan no Homare, Japan, 1850, thread-bound, woodblock-printed, Sackler item V20.2006.195.

Above images courtesy of the Sackler Gallery: The Tale of Shuten Dōji, Scroll 3 from a set of 3, section 7, by Kano Shoun (1637 – 1702); Japan, Edo period, 1700; Handscroll; Ink, color, gold, and silver on silk; 37.2 x 2405.2 cm; Purchase, Friends of Asian Arts, F1998.26.3. The Tale of Shuten Dōji, Section 23, scroll 3;  Japan, Edo period, 17th century;  Handscroll; Ink, color, gold and silver on paper; 32.7 x 1338.3 cm; Purchase, F1998.303.3 .