MORE FACT SHEETS: STATE OF THE NEWS MEDIA

Newspapers are a critical part of the American news landscape, but they have been hit hard as more and more Americans consume news digitally. The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s, but their website audience traffic has again begun to grow. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about U.S. newspapers below.

Audience

The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2020 was 24.3 million for weekday and 25.8 million for Sunday, each down 6% from the previous year – though with some caveats, as detailed below and in a new Decoded post.

Total estimated circulation of U.S. daily newspapers

Year Weekday Sunday Weekday (estimated) Sunday (estimated)
1940 41,132,000 32,371,000
1945 48,384,000 39,860,000
1946 50,928,000 43,665,000
1947 51,673,000 45,151,000
1948 52,285,000 46,308,000
1949 52,846,000 46,399,000
1950 53,829,000 46,582,000
1951 54,018,000 46,279,000
1952 53,951,000 46,210,000
1953 54,472,000 45,949,000
1954 55,072,000 46,176,000
1955 56,147,000 46,448,000
1956 57,102,000 47,162,000
1957 57,805,000 47,044,000
1958 57,418,000 46,955,000
1959 58,300,000 47,848,000
1960 58,882,000 47,699,000
1961 59,261,000 48,216,000
1962 59,849,000 48,888,000
1963 58,905,000 46,830,000
1964 60,412,000 48,383,000
1965 60,358,000 48,600,000
1966 61,397,000 49,282,000
1967 61,561,000 49,224,000
1968 62,535,000 49,693,000
1969 62,060,000 49,675,000
1970 62,108,000 49,217,000
1971 62,231,000 49,665,000
1972 62,510,000 50,001,000
1973 63,147,000 51,717,000
1974 61,877,000 51,679,000
1975 60,655,000 51,096,000
1976 60,977,000 51,565,000
1977 61,495,000 52,429,000
1978 61,990,000 53,990,000
1979 62,223,000 54,380,000
1980 62,202,000 54,676,000
1981 61,431,000 55,180,000
1982 62,487,000 56,261,000
1983 62,645,000 56,747,000
1984 63,340,000 57,574,000
1985 62,766,000 58,826,000
1986 62,502,000 58,925,000
1987 62,826,000 60,112,000
1988 62,695,000 61,474,000
1989 62,649,000 62,008,000
1990 62,328,000 62,635,000
1991 60,687,000 62,068,000
1992 60,164,000 62,160,000
1993 59,812,000 62,566,000
1994 59,305,000 62,295,000
1995 58,193,000 61,229,000
1996 56,983,000 60,798,000
1997 56,728,000 60,486,000
1998 56,182,000 60,066,000
1999 55,979,000 59,894,000
2000 55,773,000 59,421,000
2001 55,578,000 59,090,000
2002 55,186,000 58,780,000
2003 55,185,000 58,495,000
2004 54,626,000 57,754,000
2005 53,345,000 55,270,000
2006 52,329,000 53,179,000
2007 50,742,000 51,246,000
2008 48,597,000 49,115,000
2009 45,653,000 46,164,000
2010 -- --
2011 44,421,000 48,510,000
2012 43,433,000 44,821,000
2013 40,712,000 43,292,000
2014 40,420,000 42,751,000
2015 37,711,860 40,955,458
2016 34,657,199 37,801,888
2017 30,948,419 33,971,695
2018 28,554,137 30,817,351
2019 25,952,584 27,389,866
2020 24,299,333 25,785,036

Pew Research Center

(Note that the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), the source of this circulation data and the group that audits the circulation figures of many of the largest North American newspapers and other publications, changed their reporting period in 2020 from a three-month period to a six-month period. As such, in 2020, the comparison is between average circulation for the three months ending September 2019 and the six months ending September 2020. Additional details about how the circulation estimate is calculated can be found in the methodological note below.)

Within this total circulation figure, weekday print circulation decreased 19% and Sunday print circulation decreased 14%.

Digital circulation is more difficult to gauge. Using only the AAM data, digital circulation in 2020 is projected to have risen sharply, with weekday up 27% and Sunday up 26%. But three of the highest-circulation daily papers in the U.S. – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – have in recent years not fully reported their digital circulation to AAM. The Times and the Journal provide data on digital subscriptions in publicly available reports, but since this is not the same as circulation and may not be counted under the same rules used by AAM, these independently produced figures cannot easily be merged with the AAM data. If these independently produced figures were included with the AAM data in both 2019 and 2020, weekday digital circulation would have risen even more sharply, by 38%.

Estimated newspaper circulation using two different data sources

Date AAM only NYT/WSJ subscriptions plus AAM
2016 34,657,199 34,657,199
2017 30,948,419 33,291,558
2018 28,554,137 32,961,320
2019 25,952,584 32,359,455
2020 24,299,333 35,644,533

Pew Research Center

The addition of these figures would also change the overall picture for combined print and digital circulation. In previous years, including these subscription numbers with the AAM circulation data would not have changed the overall circulation picture, as total circulation would still decline. In 2020, however, including the Times’ and the Journal’s digital subscribers reverses the trend: Total weekday circulation would rise by 10%, not fall by 6%, as is the case when looking strictly at the AAM data. For comparison, the chart above shows estimated total weekday circulation using just the AAM data and when the digital subscriber numbers from the Times and the Journal are included over the past five years. For more details on how this affects our estimates and conclusions, see this post on our Decoded blog.

Unique visitors of newspaper websites

Year Average monthly unique visitors
Q4 2014 8,233,544
Q4 2015 9,709,071
Q4 2016 11,734,536
Q4 2017 11,527,744
Q4 2018 11,600,124
Q4 2019 12,149,197
Q4 2020 13,866,542

Pew Research Center

Gauging digital audience for the entire newspaper industry is difficult since many daily newspapers do not receive enough traffic to their websites to be measured by Comscore, the data source relied on here. Thus, the figures offered above reflect the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers based on circulation. In the fourth quarter of 2020, there was an average of 13.9 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers. This is up 14% from 2019, which itself was 5% higher than 2018. (The list of top 50 papers is based on Sunday circulation but includes The Wall Street Journal, which does not report Sunday circulation to AAM. It also includes The Washington Post and The New York Times, which make the top 50 even though they do not fully report their digital circulation to AAM. For more details and the full list of newspapers, see our methodology.)

Visit duration of newspaper websites

Year Average minutes per visit
Q4 2014 2.59
Q4 2015 2.59
Q4 2016 2.45
Q4 2017 2.44
Q4 2018 2.32
Q4 2019 2.10
Q4 2020 1.82

Pew Research Center

Average minutes per visit for the top 50 U.S. daily newspapers, based on circulation, is a little less than two minutes in Q4 2020. This is down about 45 seconds from when we first began tracking this in Q4 2014.

Economics

The total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2020 was $8.8 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This is down 29% from 2019. Total estimated circulation revenue was $11.1 billion, compared with $11.0 billion in 2019. This is the first year in our data that circulation revenue has been higher than advertising revenue.

Estimated advertising and circulation revenue of the newspaper industry

Year Advertising Circulation Advertising (estimated) Circulation (estimated)
1956 $3,223,000,000 $1,344,492,000
1957 $3,268,000,000 $1,373,464,000
1958 $3,176,000,000 $1,459,013,000
1959 $3,526,000,000 $1,549,576,000
1960 $3,681,000,000 $1,604,228,000
1961 $3,601,000,000 $1,684,319,000
1962 $3,659,000,000 $1,819,840,000
1963 $3,780,000,000 $1,901,820,000
1964 $4,120,000,000 $1,983,809,000
1965 $4,426,000,000 $2,023,090,000
1966 $4,865,000,000 $2,109,050,000
1967 $4,910,000,000 $2,180,242,000
1968 $5,232,000,000 $2,288,215,000
1969 $5,714,000,000 $2,425,446,000
1970 $5,704,000,000 $2,634,402,000
1971 $6,167,000,000 $2,833,320,000
1972 $6,939,000,000 $2,929,233,000
1973 $7,481,000,000 $3,037,820,000
1974 $7,842,000,000 $3,581,733,000
1975 $8,234,000,000 $3,921,515,000
1976 $9,618,000,000 $4,087,303,000
1977 $10,751,000,000 $4,310,236,000
1978 $12,213,000,000 $4,534,779,000
1979 $13,863,000,000 $4,950,542,000
1980 $14,794,000,000 $5,469,589,000
1981 $16,527,000,000 $6,206,141,000
1982 $17,694,000,000 $6,656,661,000
1983 $20,581,000,000 $7,044,098,000
1984 $23,522,000,000 $7,368,158,000
1985 $25,170,000,000 $7,659,297,000
1986 $26,990,000,000 $8,052,148,000
1987 $29,412,000,000 $8,399,032,000
1988 $31,197,000,000 $8,046,287,000
1989 $32,368,000,000 $8,370,324,000
1990 $32,280,000,000
1991 $30,349,000,000 $8,697,679,000
1992 $30,639,000,000 $9,163,534,000
1993 $31,869,000,000 $9,193,802,000
1994 $34,109,000,000 $9,443,217,000
1995 $36,092,000,000 $9,720,186,000
1996 $38,075,000,000 $9,969,240,000
1997 $41,330,000,000 $10,065,642,000
1998 $43,925,000,000 $10,266,955,000
1999 $46,289,000,000 $10,472,294,000
2000 $48,670,000,000 $10,540,643,000
2001 $44,305,000,000 $10,783,078,000
2002 $44,102,000,000 $11,025,896,000
2003 $46,156,000,000 $11,224,362,000
2004 $48,244,000,000 $10,988,651,000
2005 $49,435,000,000 $10,746,901,000
2006 $49,275,402,572 $10,548,344,000
2007 $45,375,000,000 $10,294,920,096
2008 $37,848,257,630 $10,086,956,940
2009 $27,564,000,000 $10,066,783,026
2010 $25,837,698,822 $10,049,360,689
2011 $27,078,473,864 $9,989,064,525
2012 $25,316,461,215 $10,448,561,493
2013 $23,587,097,435 $10,641,662,892
2014 $22,077,809,951 $10,744,324,061
2015 $20,362,238,293 $10,870,292,720
2016 $18,274,943,567 $10,910,460,499
2017 $16,476,453,084 $11,211,011,020
2018 $14,346,024,182 $10,995,341,920
2019 $12,450,469,802 $11,033,102,338
2020 $8,833,842,400 $11,091,733,928

Pew Research Center

In the chart above, data through 2012 comes from the trade group formerly known as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), now known as the News Media Alliance (NMA). Data from 2013 onward is based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements from publicly traded U.S. newspaper companies, which in 2020 numbered five and accounted for more than 300 U.S. daily newspapers, from large national papers to midsize metro dailies and local papers. From 2013 onward, the year-over-year percentage change in advertising and circulation revenue for these companies is calculated and then applied to the previous year’s revenue totals as reported by the NMA/NAA. In testing this method, changes from 2006 through 2012 generally matched those as reported by the NMA/NAA; for more details, see our 2016 report.

Share of newspaper advertising revenue coming from digital advertising

Year Advertising revenue coming from digital advertising
2011 17%
2012 19%
2013 20%
2014 21%
2015 25%
2016 29%
2017 31%
2018 35%
2019 35%
2020 39%

Pew Research Center

Digital advertising accounted for 39% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2020, based on this analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. The portion stood at 35% in 2019 – but at 17% in 2011, the first year it was possible to perform this analysis.

Newsroom investment

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, 30,820 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers, or film and video editors and operators in the newspaper industry in 2020. That is down 12% from 2019 and 57% from 2004. Median wages for editors in 2020 were about $50,000, while for reporters, the figure was about $36,000.

Employment in newspaper newsrooms

Year Total
2004 71,640
2005 72,600
2006 74,410
2007 73,810
2008 71,070
2009 60,770
2010 55,260
2011 54,050
2012 51,430
2013 48,920
2014 46,310
2015 44,120
2016 42,450
2017 39,210
2018 37,900
2019 34,950
2020 30,820

Pew Research Center

Year News analysts,
reporters and
journalists
Editors Photographers Television, video, and
film camera operators
and editors
2012 $36,381 $52,114 $40,899 $53,955
2013 $36,384 $51,420 $42,271 $56,674
2014 $35,559 $50,290 $41,163 $55,927
2015 $35,399 $50,936 $41,769 $61,239
2016 $35,596 $51,981 $42,931 $58,518
2017 $36,093 $52,196 $42,006 $54,223
2018 $36,017 $50,830 $43,181 $50,706
2019 $35,579 $50,462 $43,658 $55,889
2020 $35,950 $50,010 $45,710 $53,730

Pew Research Center

Methodological note

In this fact sheet, circulation data through 2014 is from Editor & Publisher, which was published on the website of the News Media Alliance (NMA), known at the time as the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Since then, the NMA no longer supplies this data, so the Center determined the year-over-year change in total circulation for those daily U.S. newspapers that report to the Alliance for Audited Media and meet certain criteria. This percentage change was then applied to the total circulation from the prior year – thus the use of the term “estimated total circulation.” This technique is also used to create the revenue estimates, using the financial statements of publicly traded newspaper companies as the data source.

Find out more

This fact sheet was compiled by Senior Researcher Michael Barthel and Research Assistant Kirsten Worden.

Read the methodology.

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Find more in-depth explorations of U.S. newspapers by following the links below: