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Newspaper Circulation Falls to Lowest Levels Since 1945

June 1, 2017

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Digital subscriptions jumped for some major U.S. newspapers after last year’s presidential election, but total weekday circulation for daily papers continues to fall, Pew Research Center finds.

According to financial statements and circulation filings, The New York Times added more than 500,000 digital subscriptions in 2016, a 47 percent year-over-year rise; The Wall Street Journal added more than 150,000, a 23 percent increase; and the Chicago Tribune’s weekday digital circulation grew by about 100,000, a 76 percent gain.

But Pew’s analysis of data from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), an organization that verifies newspaper-circulation figures, shows that overall, total weekday and Sunday circulations for U.S. daily newspapers — both print and digital — dropped by 8 percent in 2016, the 28th consecutive year of declines. Weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers fell to 35 million, while Sunday circulation slid to 38 million — the lowest levels since 1945.

Circulation declines coincided with a 10 percent drop in advertising revenue for the industry as a whole, putting total newspaper ad revenue for 2016 at $18 billion, compared to $49 billion in 2006. Circulation revenue has risen slightly, from $10.4 billion in 2012 to $10.9 billion in both 2015 and 2016, as some publishers focus on adding subscribers rather than retaining advertising revenue. But gains in circulation revenue have not compensated for losses in advertising revenue, a pattern that was found even at large newspapers and major chains. — Greg Beaubien

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