US Newspaper Circulation - Featured Image
By Milos Djordjevic | April 6, 2021 | 0 Comments

22 US Newspaper Circulation Statistics You Should Be Aware Of

With the explosion of digital media, it is rare to find people who still bother buying print newspapers. Therefore, it’s not surprising that fewer and fewer physical copies are circulating.

The newspaper industry has taken significant hits over the last few decades — and the decreasing US newspaper circulation illustrates it the best.

This article will examine the most recent circulation data, compare it with the golden days of print journalism, and see how these recent trends have shaped the industry’s current state.

Top US Newspaper Circulation Stats (Editor’s Choice)

  • The current US print circulation is the lowest in the last 80 years.
  • In 2020, The Wall Street Journal’s circulation fell below the 1-million mark.
  • Due to declining readership, 1 in 5 US newspapers has folded in the last 15 years.
  • American newspapers will see their ad revenue cut in half by 2024.
  • Newsroom employment dropped by 23% since 2008.
  • Americans prefer digital newspapers over social media as a news source.

Recent US Newspaper Circulation Statistics

The history of newspapers in the US is rich. Newspapers have been around for more than three centuries and have shaped the country’s public and political life in countless ways. The first newspaper in America was published in 1690, but a lot has changed since then.

To see how things have changed, let’s look at the most recent print circulation data.

1. The weekday print circulation decreased from 63.3 million copies in 1984 to 28.5 million in 2018.

(Statista)

Considering the extra time readers have on the weekends, they’re more likely to buy a copy on Sunday than on, say, Tuesday. That’s why weekday circulation is perhaps the best way to measure newspaper readership — and that number has gone down drastically since 1984.

The last complete overview of US newspapers by circulation is from 2018. Due to the declining print numbers, the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) has stopped publishing the data regularly. Since then, it has only put out a few brief reports on specific newspapers’ circulation rather than any extensive newspaper market analyses.

2. Only one of the largest newspapers in the US circulated more than 500,000 copies in 2020.

(Press Gazette)

Until recently, having a circulation above one million was a source of pride for the papers that could achieve it. However, only one major newspaper managed to cross the 500,000 mark in the first quarter of 2020  — The Wall Street Journal with 994,600 copies.

3. Most Americans are unaware of US national newspapers’ decline.

(Pew Research Center)

A recent survey found that 71% of people believe American papers are doing well. At the same time, only 14% say that they have paid for their news in some way (e.g., subscriptions or donations). It might be that, thanks to the digital news outlets, the line between print and digital has become blurred for most readers, leaving them unaware of the print’s decline.

4. The current US newspaper circulation is the lowest since 1940.

(Pew Research Center)

1940 was the first year official circulation data was published, and 2018 was the last thus far. At that time, all newspapers combined sold 28.6 million copies on weekdays and 30.8 million on Sunday. Looking at the most recent newspaper circulation data, the 2020 numbers were the lowest since 1940 — and the downward trend shows no signs of stopping.

5. The newspaper ad revenue dropped dramatically in 2020.

(Pew Research Center)

In 2020, the total ad revenue for all US print newspapers dropped by 42% compared to 2019. Although digital advertising saw a rise in recent years, the pandemic-related financial crisis halted it in 2020. According to data from the year’s second quarter, the digital ad revenue went down by 32% year-over-year, forcing many newspapers to lay off staff.

6. All major US newspapers will see their advertising revenue cut in half by 2024.

(Statista)

According to industry predictions, the newspaper advertising revenue will continue to decrease dramatically over the next few years. By these predictions, it will be cut in half — down to $5.5 billion annually. Magazines won’t fare much better than newspapers. Namely, their total print ad revenue is expected to drop to just $6.6 billion over the same period.

7.  By 2024, advertising will make up just over a third of newspapers’ total revenue.

(Statista, Innovation)

The data on newspaper circulation in 2020 shows that print and digital combined make up 52.14% of the total newspaper industry revenue. Although historically the biggest source of income, advertising now only accounts for 41.24%. By 2024, both these revenue streams will drop significantly, and ad revenue will make up only 36% of total earnings.

Some industry insiders claim newspapers will try to make up for these losses in other ways. Organizing events has proven to be the most lucrative in recent years, but it’s still unclear how newspapers can maximize their value in the increasingly digital, post-COVID-19 world.

8. Due to the poor state of newspaper circulation, 1 in 5 papers has shut down in the last 15 years.

(The New York Times)

For centuries now, local news was the backbone of the US newspaper industry. But in the digital era of fast information and 24/7 news cycles, its existence proved almost obsolete. With more and more local newspapers going under in the last 15 years, we’ve seen the rise of the so-called “news deserts” — areas with no papers that would cover the local stories.

9. Top United States newspapers still reach 69% of the population.

(Nielsen)

While print newspapers continue to struggle, not everything is so bleak. According to Nielsen’s most recent market research, all newspapers combined still manage to reach 69% of the total population in one month. However, besides print, this number also includes digital editions and proprietary apps developed by newspaper companies.

10. Although not the most read newspapers in the US, local papers are by far the most trusted.

(Poynter)

According to a survey conducted by Poynter, 73% of US adults trust their local newspapers. Compared to national newspapers, the result is even more impressive, as only 59% say they have trust in national publications, and 47% believe what they read in online-only outlets.

11. Subscribers are the core audience for the top newspapers in the USA.

(American Press Institute)

Newspaper subscriptions provide a secure and constant revenue stream, and they’re also generally good for attracting advertisers. Research shows that 38% of subscribers get both a print and digital newspaper, 84% pay for the print version, and 28% opt for the digital edition.

12. The weekday New York Times circulation has dropped by 79.7% since 2013.

(Statista, Press Gazette)

Although The New York Times has adapted well to the digital era, its print weekday circulation keeps decreasing. In 2013, the newspaper’s weekday circulation was at an all-time high of 1.92 million copies. However, by 2020, the paper’s circulation has reached an all-time low — just 410,562 print copies distributed in the year’s first quarter.

13. The Washington Post’s circulation on weekdays is down by 71.5% from 2004.

(Statista, Press Gazette)

While it never circulated that many copies on weekdays, Washington Post suffered the same losses as all other print newspapers. The paper’s strongest year was 2004, when its weekday edition circulated 726,000 copies. Fast-forward to 2020, and although the paper currently ranks as the fourth most read, it only manages to push 206,824 copies.

14. Considered one of the best quality newspapers in the US, The Wall Street Journal fell below the 1-million mark for the first time in 2020.

(Statista, Press Gazette)

Published by Dow Jones Publications and the Murdoch family-owned News Corp, The Wall Street Journal has been around since 1889 and regularly ranks among the top five most read papers nationwide. In 2020, its weekday print circulation numbers fell below 1 million, pushing 994,600 copies in the year’s first quarter. Although down, this number was enough to rank The Wall Street Journal as the best newspaper in the USA in terms of print sales.

15. Liberal and conservative publications are equally represented among the highest-circulated newspapers.

(Press Gazette, Boston University Libraries)

The representation of liberal and conservative newspapers among the top-selling print publications reflects the liberal-conservative divide within the general US population.

For example, if we look at the list of liberal newspapers among the top 10 bestsellers in 2020, we’ll find the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. At the same time, several of the most read papers — including the leading Wall Street Journal — are often included in the list of conservative newspapers. Other such papers include Chicago Tribune and The New York Post.

The only newspaper considered moderate is USA Today. Once the best-selling paper in the country, it now ranks second with 486,579 copies circulated on weekdays in 2020.

US Newspaper Circulation - Rolled Papers

American Political Newspapers in the Digital Era

As digital and social media continue to dominate the media landscape, newspapers struggle to attract and maintain their readers. Many papers have successfully adapted to current trends, but some — especially local ones — haven’t and are shutting down as a result.

This section will discuss how the lack of digital circulation data complicates matters in the industry. We’ll also examine the state of traditional newsroom employment in this digital age.

16. There’s no way to measure digital newspaper circulation data accurately.

(Pew Research Center)

Unlike print, the official digital circulation is still not officially measured.

It’s not mandatory for news outlets to provide their digital circulation numbers, but some have done so in reports submitted to the AAM. Since 2017, most major outlets have stopped reporting their print data altogether. Nowadays, some papers publish digital subscription data as part of their company reports, and some also use the numbers in their press releases.

17. The biggest newspapers in the US make 35% of their ad revenue from digital advertising.

(Pew Research Center)

The share of digital advertising in the total ad revenue has kept increasing every year since 2011. Over the years, this share has gone up from 17% to 35%. However, experts note that most digital revenue doesn’t go directly to the newspapers but primarily to platforms like Google and Facebook. And with the recent revenue drop, most papers are looking for other steady income streams — event organizing, commercial printing, and TV content production.

18. Hispanic and Black readers are most likely to subscribe to digital editions of American daily newspapers.

(American Press Institute)

White readers currently make up 23% of digital subscribers. Hispanics account for 45% and Blacks for 34% of those who primarily subscribe to digital newspaper editions.

The differences between different age groups are also striking — readers over 65 are five times more likely to buy a print copy, while young adults (18–34) are equally likely to pay for digital and print versions.

19. Even at the most circulated newspaper in the US, newsroom employees are earning less and less.

(Pew Research Center)

Sure, newsroom employees are earning more than the average US worker, regardless of their education level. An average newsroom employee will earn $48,000 per year, whereas the national average is $39,000. However, newsroom employees are also earning considerably less than college-educated employees in other industries.

On average, a newsroom employee with a college degree will earn $51,000, far below the national average of $59,000. Since the biggest American newspaper companies’ circulation problems aren’t going anywhere, the decline in newsroom wages will also likely continue.

20. Newsroom employment dropped by 23% since 2008.

(Pew Research Center)

Regardless of the news industry (print, radio, broadcast television, and cable), newsroom jobs are in danger as the news’ overall popularity continues to decrease. Since 2008, newsroom employment across the industry dropped by a worrying 23%. According to employment data, people aged 35–54 — those in the middle of their professional careers — took the most severe hit, as their employment decreased by 42%.

21. The growing list of online newspapers has surpassed social media as the preferred digital news source.

(Pew Research Center)

Publishing digital newspapers is not only a means of maintaining readership but also a way to remain a relevant information source in today’s internet age. And even though many Americans get their news from social media, news websites and apps are still in the lead.

In 2020, 11% of US adults cited social media as their preferred news source, while 26% opted for news apps and websites, including digital newspapers. For comparison, only 5% of Americans said they still get their news from print publications.

22. Online-only news outlets’ staff has more than doubled in the last 11 years.

(Pew Research Center)

As the list of newspapers in print gets smaller and smaller, online-only outlets — also known as digital-native — are becoming predominant in the news industry. As traditional newsroom employment kept decreasing, the number of employees in digital-native outlets went through the roof. From 7,400 in 2019, it went up to 16,100 in 2019 — a 117.6% increase.

The Future of Print Newspapers

Print media is slowly fading, and newspapers have taken the biggest hit. Of course, this doesn’t mean that any of the oldest newspapers in the US will suddenly cease to exist.

With the circulation and advertising revenues down across the board, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it will take time for the news industry to completely adapt to digital. Some of the most popular newspapers in the US have already done this, while others are still looking for ways to build a strong digital presence.

Print newspapers will most likely continue to exist. After all, older readers prefer getting their news the old-fashioned way, but subscriptions might be the only sustainable model for this.

FAQ

What is the highest circulation newspaper?

As of 2020, The Wall Street Journal has the highest circulation of all US daily papers. In the year’s first quarter, its weekday edition circulated 994,600 copies. The paper’s Sunday edition — which traditionally attracts more readers — managed to push 995,684 copies in 2020, reinforcing Wall Street Journal’s lead.

Is newspaper circulation in decline?

Unfortunately, yes. In 2020, the circulation of all newspapers combined was the lowest since 1940. For the first time, no newspaper has pushed more than a million copies on weekdays or Sundays. What’s more, The Wall Street Journal was the only US newspaper to circulate more than 500,000 copies on weekdays.

What is the circulation of USA Today?

Until 2019, USA Today was the most read paper nationwide. However, in the first quarter of 2020, the newspaper only circulated 486,579 copies of its weekday edition, putting it in second place, far behind the first-placed Wall Street Journal. For comparison, the paper’s weekday edition circulated more than 3 million copies in 2017, meaning its print circulation has gone down by a staggering 84.2% over just three years.

What are the biggest newspapers in the US?

In 2020, only four newspapers circulated more than 200,000 copies on weekdays:

  • The Wall Street Journal (994,600)
  • USA Today (486,579)
  • The New York Times (410,562)
  • The Washington Post (206,824)

The Sunday editions fared much better. Except for USA Today, which doesn’t come out on weekends, the largest circulation numbers for all these newspapers were posted on Sunday.

In fact, The New York Times more than doubled its weekday numbers by pushing 876,178 copies of its Sunday edition. Besides The Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune also crossed the 300,000 mark on Sundays.

What are the top 3 selling newspapers in America?

The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times were the top sellers in 2020.

The same trio dominated the sales charts in 2019. But back then, USA Today was in the lead, and The Wall Street Journal was behind it. In the year in which the global pandemic and the presidential election dominated the news, the two papers swapped their positions.

Which newspaper has the highest circulation?

Ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, The Wall Street Journal had higher circulation than any of its competitors. The paper’s weekday edition pushed 994,600 copies — more than twice as many as the second-placed USA Today (486,579).

What is the bestselling daily newspaper in the US?

All major papers have lost thousands of readers between 2019 and 2020, but The Wall Street Journal managed to maintain most of its readership. According to the official Q1 2020 US newspaper circulation numbers, the News Corp-owned daily pushed close to a million copies throughout the week. More specifically, it circulated 994,600 copies on weekdays and 995,684 on Sundays, making it the highest-selling daily newspaper nationwide.

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