The history of newspapers in the US is rich. Newspapers shaped the public and political life of the country in countless ways. The first newspaper in America was published in 1690, but a lot has changed since then. The most recent stats on the newspaper circulation are here to give you an insight into the current state of things.
1. Newspaper weekday circulation has decreased from 63.3 million copies in 1984 to 28.5 million in 2018.
Considering the extra time readers have on the weekends, they’re more prone to buy a copy on Sunday than on, let’s say, Tuesday. That’s why weekday circulation stands out as a more realistic measurement of a newspaper’s readership.
And that number decreased drastically since 1984. When looking closely at US newspapers by circulation stats, the decrease continues with the rise of digital media. Since 1984, the total weekday circulation has decreased by more than a half.
2. Only two of the largest newspapers in the US have a circulation higher than one million.
Having a circulation above one million is now a source of pride for those publications which can achieve it. Only two of the major newspaper outlets in the US can pride themselves with such a high number — USA Today, with 1.61 million copies, and The Wall Street Journal, with 1 million copies in circulation.
3. Americans are not at all informed on the decline of US national newspapers.
(Pew Research Center)
A 2018 survey found that 71% of people believe American papers are doing well. Additionally, only 14% say that they have paid for their news at least in some way (subscriptions, donations etc.). It might be that, thanks to the digital news outlets, the line between the print and digital newspapers slowly became blurred for most readers leaving them unaware of the print decline.
4. In 2018, US newspaper circulation was lowest since 1940.
(Pew Research Center)
1940 was the first year that official data on newspaper circulation was gathered, and 2018 has had the lowest circulation numbers since — at 28.6 million copies sold during weekdays and 30.8 million on Sunday. Even compared to 2017, the circulation dropped 8% for weekday editions.
5. The newspaper ad revenue has dropped dramatically since 2018.
(Pew Research Center)
In 2018, the total ad revenue for US newspapers was $14.3 billion, 62% less than in 2008 ($37.8 billion). Even with the steady rise of the revenue from digital advertising, the total numbers don’t sound positive at all.
6. Low state newspaper circulation contributed to having 1 in 5 newspapers being shut down.
(New York Times)
For centuries now, local news was the backbone of the US newspapers. But in the digital era of quick information and daily news cycles, its existence unfortunately proved to be almost obsolete. With more and more local newspapers shutting down, reports indicate that more than one in five newspapers were officially closed.
7. Top United States newspapers still reach 69% of the population.
While local newspapers continue to struggle, at least some good news for the top newspapers in the US. According to one study, they still manage to reach 69% of the total population in one month of circulation.
8. Newspaper advertising revenue will be cut in half in the next five years.
According to industry predictions, the already struggling numbers of newspaper advertising will continue to decrease significantly. By these predictions, they’ll be cut in half — down to $5.5 billion annually.
9. By 2024, advertising will make up slightly more than the third of total newspaper revenue.
The data on newspaper circulation in 2019 shows that advertising currently makes up for almost a half of total newspaper revenue, while pure circulation earnings make up 58.7%. By 2024, both earnings will drop but advertising will do so quite significantly. According to these predictions, ad revenue will make up only 35% of total revenue.
10. Local newspapers are certainly not the most circulated newspaper in the US, but 73% of the population believes in the information they report.
According to the survey conducted by Poynter, 73% of surveyed have confidence in their local newspaper. Compared to national newspapers, the result is even better as only 59% of people have trust in national publications and 47% have confidence in online-only news sources.
11. Subscribers are the core audience for the most read newspapers in the US.
(American Press Institute)
Newspaper subscribers provide secure and constant ad revenue (and subscription), they’re also generally good for the news business. In fact, 38% of subscribers get both a paper and digital newspaper, 84% pay for a print newspaper, and 28% opt solely for the digital version.
12. The weekday New York Times circulation has steadily declined in recent years.
Even though it’s often said that the New York Times adapted to the digital era, its weekday circulation keeps decreasing. In 2019, the newspaper’s weekday circulation was 443,000 copies, compared to 959,000 a decade earlier. The newspaper had the highest circulation in 2013 with 1.92 million copies sold.
13. The Wall Street Journal is one of the best quality newspapers in the US, with circulation growing.
Published by Dow Jones Publications, The Wall Street Journal has been in print circulation since 1889 and is among the top five newspapers of best quality and circulation in the US. Its circulation numbers (print and digital combined) continue to grow. This is interesting to many industry experts as the WSJ often ends up on the list of conservative newspapers because of its anti-government, anti-tax and free fare stance.
14. Liberal and conservative newspapers are equally represented in the top 10 largest circulation newspapers.
(Fullintel, Boston University Libraries)
The representation of liberal and conservative newspapers in the top newspapers with largest circulation pretty much reflects the liberal vs conservative divide among the general US population.
Still, have in mind that it’s difficult to divide newspapers according to political bias and make a completely official list of liberal newspapers, for example. Large newspapers are never explicitly conservative or liberal, but we can sort them according to how they cover major political events, such as presidential elections.