May 22, 2015

The declining value of U.S. newspapers

Over the past two decades, major newspapers across the country have seen a recurring cycle of ownership changes and steep declines in value.

The San Diego Union-Tribune was the latest example of this, as it officially changed ownership hands Thursday for the third time in six years. This most recent purchase came from Tribune Publishing Co. for the amount of $85 million (including nine community papers). Still waiting for a buyer is the 96-year-old New York tabloid the Daily News, which owner Mort Zuckerman put on the sale block this spring. But there seems to be far from a stampede of interested buyers.

Steep revenue and circulation declines across the newspaper industry have left many newspapers struggling. Over the past decade, weekday circulation has fallen 17% and ad revenue more than 50%. In 2014 alone, three different media companies decided to spin off more than 100 newspaper properties, in large part to protect their still-robust broadcast or digital divisions.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos may have stunned many with his $250 million purchase of The Washington Post, which was last sold at auction in 1933, but other recent sales of major papers show dramatic devaluation and suggest a tough road ahead for the newspaper industry.

Newspaper Sales

Topics: Newspapers, Newsroom Investment and Resources, State of the News Media

  1. Photo of Amy Mitchell

    is director of journalism research at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Katerina Eva Matsa

    is a research associate focusing on journalism research at Pew Research Center.

9 Comments

  1. jrvisual11 months ago

    Total paid newspapers in circulation continues to decline.

    customcharts.net/content/Total-P…

  2. Darcy1 year ago

    While numbers from this study can certainly be discouraging (“Over the past decade, weekday circulation has fallen 17% and ad revenue more than 50%.”), this study doesn’t communicate the alternate ways publications are monetizing their value (which is related to the quality of their content, the devotion of their readers, and the results this combination can deliver for advertisers).

    Those publications that are adaptable and find different ways to generate revenue will survive (ie delivering their content via web and mobile and selling advertising on those, or working with CPA advertisers willing to give print another try). Sticking to the old business model and not training sales reps to embrace new ways of thinking will make the uphill battle more challenging.

    I agree with Gregory that those that forecast the imminent death of print from studies of this nature are shortsighted and not considering the big picture.

    Our network of CPA advertisers willing to spend on print brings newspapers and magazines a new stream of revenue every day. Publications that say “we don’t run pay per call advertisers” are falling behind to the thousands of publications that are running ads like this with us already: mediabids.com/viewCampaign/fores…

  3. Larry Eiler1 year ago

    I agree with Jeff Perlman. Most newspapers gave up their “watchdog” status long ago. Bloggers and unattributed opinions have replaced that status, not for the good.

  4. Oscar Y. Harward1 year ago

    ‘Main-stream’ Medias just don’t get it. An overwhelming number of Publishers and Editors are too wrapped and deeply involved in Liberalism as a positive direction; more taxes, more spending, bigger government, with fewer freedoms and less Christianity, etc.

    These ‘Main-stream’ Medias are rejecting the more Conservative ideas of many Americans who represent themselves as Traditionalists. Views within ‘Main-stream’ Medias Publishers and Editors dominate the News; regardless of quality and truth.

    Look at almost all publications. ‘Main-stream’ Medias continue to pursue and publish left-wing views while rejecting ‘right-wing’ writings, views, and ideas as ‘ignorant, foolish, backwards, etc. These stereotypes are Democrat Party advocates as they shove their Progressive, Socialists, and/or Communists political ideals down (y)our throat.

    These left-wing Publishers and Editors view themselves as a salvation when in fact, these individuals, as a group, represent the ‘food of collapses in destroying our precious nation with Constitution freedoms based on Judeo-Christian values.

    1. Jeff Perlman1 year ago

      What an angry and myopic view.
      Newspapers ceded their market by failing to stay relevant to reader lives, not because they were liberal or left wing.
      Enterprise journalism went away, they failed to brand their star writers and the world moved on from the print platform.

      1. Mark1 year ago

        Nice response. All businesses must stay relevant to be profitable.

      2. Anonymous3 months ago

        His point was relevance to the American who has traditional values as it relates to “liberal” perspective. I think your response makes his point.

  5. Gregory Clay1 year ago

    I think this is a good article about asset valuation, but not necessarily a good article about the obsolescence of print media or the ineffectiveness of the business model.

    First, the selling price of an asset and its value are vastly two different things. 60% of a news media property’s value is in goodwill. The value is in the people. The selling price of the building does not truly reflect a writer’s ability to engage his or her community and reader engagement is really what drives the advertising revenue.

    Yes, the selling price of newspaper buildings has fallen, but so has expenses. Many newspapers have outsourced print operations and taken those cost savings straight to the bottom line. Many times NIBT have never been negative at these news media properties. It just has not been the 25% and 30% of the 80’s and 90’s.

    Yes, print circulation is down, but many newspapers are successfully offsetting those losses in print with double digit growth in digital.

    One thing painfully absent from this article is a real discussion about margin. Have news media margins declined at the same rate? If this was an article written about US newspaper margins, I believe your end conclusion the would vastly different.

    Not to be overly optimistic, print media has some really challenges ahead, but the selling price of fixed assets is not one of them. Respectfully!

    1. Earl1 year ago

      Well said Gregory, yes profits have gone down, so have the number of employees. Combine that with no pay raises and margins are still very high, no one be fooled.