While the decline of traditional media is not exactly front page news anymore, new figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics show just how small the newspaper industry has become since the turn of the 21st century.
MediaPost’s Erik Sass reports that total employment in newspaper publishing has dropped by more than 40 percent in the last 10 years. In 2001, the industry had employed 414,000 people, but that number fell to 246,020 people by 2011. What’s more, much of that decline has taken place in just the last three years, suggesting that the industry is growing increasingly unstable even as the economy as a whole makes modest gains.
The numbers, according to MediaPost, do not completely gel with figures from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which reports a slightly less pessimistic 28.1 percent decline over the last decade. However, neither report does much to refute general consensus that newspaper publishing faces more systemic hurdles than perhaps any other industry in America today.
In April, research firm IBISWorld ranked newspaper publishing No. 5 on the list of the country’s fastest-dying industries. The industry is declining at an average annual rate of 6.4 percent, IBISWorld wrote, and it’s expected to continue to decline by an average annual rate of 4.2 percent through at least 2017.
The hemorrhaging of advertising revenue has been the greatest challenge for newspaper publishers. According to the Newspaper Association of America, or NAA, total advertising revenues have declined by more than 50 percent in just five years, going from $49.3 billion in 2006 to $23.9 billion last year.
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It should come as no surprise, consequently, that an increasing number of newspaper publishers are embracing the idea of paywalls for their publications’ websites. Once an industry rarity, paywalls have skyrocketed in the last 18 months, as many publishers have followed in the footsteps of the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), which enacted a paywall in early 2011. In the third quarter of last year, 41 American papers adopted paywalls -- up from 10 for the same period the year before.
According to MediaPost, some of the largest newspaper companies were also the hardest hit over the last decade. Gannett Co. (NYSE: GCI), the country’s largest, had 51,500 employees at the end of 2001. By 2011, that number was down to 31,000, a drop of 40 percent. Similarly, the Times Co. also declined by 40 percent, with 12,050 at the end of 2001 compared to 7,273 last year.
Despite the ongoing declines, some newspaper executives remain optimistic that the industry can adapt to a digital world. In August, the Newspaper Association Managers (NAM) released a study showing that 25 percent of newspaper executives believe the industry will be more relevant five years from now than it is today, while only about 16 percent say it will be less relevant.
According to NAM, its survey of employees at 386 daily and weekly newspapers showed that many editors are “focusing more on digital content to keep pace in our changing media environment.”