Monday, May 18, 2015

The Discarded Newspaper in Airport Metric: A Different Way to Measure Newspaper Decline

Not a discarded newspaper in sight . . . .

There are different ways to measure the decline of newspapers today.

One way to chart it is overall profit. In the first quarter of 2015 the top ten newspapers in the U.S. made about $21 million. Compare that to 2005, when one newspaper company, Gannett, alone earned $1.8 billion in net income.

Another measurement is print ad revenue. It dropped (again) in 2014 to $16.4 billion, 4% down from 2013.

The number of readers is also an important indicator. Weekday and Sunday circulation both fell in 2014.

The number of reporters? Down 3% in 2013, although that’s a bit of a win since it fell 6% the previous year.

Single-copy newspaper sales, which once made up 15-25% of sales, are dropping in double digits per year.

(All figures are from the U.S., although I have no reason to suspect things are different in Canada.)

These are all valid and important ways to monitor what’s happening to newspapers in North America today. But I have another way of measuring the disappearing world of print newspapers.

I call it the Discarded Newspaper in Airport Metric (DNAM).

I have been observing this metric since 1981, when I first started travelling for business.

During that time, I have been through a lot of airports. As a news junkie, I like to read local newspapers. 

Lucky for me, other people liked to read newspapers, too. When done, they discarded them on seats in waiting areas, where I found them.

When I finished, I left them behind for others, a pay-it-forward kind of thing.

For many years, it worked well. It was easy to find lots of discarded newspapers in airports.

Lately, however, things have changed. Discarded newspapers are harder to find. On my last trip through two major Canadian airports, I found only one.

Why is that? One reason is that fewer people read newspapers.

The other is if they do read them, they tend to do so on smartphones and tablets.

The result? Fewer discarded newspapers in airports. 

Or, as New York Times Deputy Tech Editor Quentin Hardy put it: "Dammit, I used to go through an airport and read discarded newspapers. Now I have to look for smartphones and tablets.”

And that digital revolution is, of course, one of the main reasons behind those falling profits, falling circulation, falling ad revenue, and falling jobs.

On future trips maybe I’ll have to break down and actually buy a newspaper, then leave it for other travellers.

Either that, or be like everybody else and read them on my phone.

Figures from Nieman Labs State of the News Media 2015. 

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