After years of devastating losses, the newspaper industry has a glimmer of good news.
Circulation revenue for daily newspapers grew in 2012 for the first time in a decade as more people paid to subscribe to digital editions, according to data compiled by the Newspaper Association of America.
The finding is noteworthy because it demonstrates that the newspaper industry, which has been hammered in recent years as consumers and advertisers migrated to the Internet, has begun to adapt its business model to a new era.
Newspapers generated $10.4 billion in circulation revenue in 2012, a 5 percent increase over the previous year. It was the first gain since 2003, as more consumers read newspaper content on desktops, tablets and cellphones.
“America’s newspaper media are transforming themselves,” said Caroline Little, NAA president. “In virtually every community they serve, newspapers have the biggest newsrooms, the best-known brands and significant audience market share. Now they are building on those to find new ways to serve audiences and local businesses.”
Otherwise, the news was not so good. The growth in digital revenue in 2012 did not make up for continued declines in newspapers’ traditional — and most important — sources of revenue. The NAA study found that overall revenue for daily newspapers fell 2 percent last year to $38.6 billion. That compared with $39.5 billion in 2011.
Advertising dollars continued to shrink, declining 6 percent last year. Revenue for ads in printed daily and Sunday editions tumbled 9 percent, with national ads and real estate ads experiencing the sharpest declines. Industrywide, advertisers spent $18.9 billion on print ads in newspapers.
In contrast, ads on digital platforms, including mobile devices and the Internet, rose 5 percent, to $3.4 billion.