The endangered newspaper that is not
Circulation is actually growing worldwide
February 8, 2007
As conventional wisdom would have it, the newspaper is in a state of decline, battered by the rise of the internet.
But in fact the numbers say quite the opposite. Newspapers are actually gaining in circulation worldwide, and rather substantially, by 10 percent between 2001 and 2005, to 479 million copies daily, according to a new study from the World Association of Newspapers, based in Paris.
There are now also more newspapers than ever before, in excess of 10,000 dailies, a record number.
To some degree the growth reflects the rise of free newspapers, and it’s a phenomenon both in the U.S. and Europe, as well as elsewhere around the globe. But paid newspapers are also seeing circulation growth globally.
In Europe, total circulation is actually up, despite perceptions that newspapers are on the decline there, rising by 2.12 percent in the five years to 2005. In the U.S. newspaper circulation is down but not nearly as much as one might assume, off just 0.66 percent over that five-year period once gains by the free dailies are factored in.
What we are seeing completely contradicts the conventional wisdom that newspapers are in terminal decline, said Timothy Balding, CEO of the WAN, in a statement. The WAN study includes circulation data from 92 countries and information about the number of titles from 165 countries.
Around the world the circulation of paid-for papers is up 6.39 percent over the five-year period to 2005 and 0.74 percent in 2005 versus 2004.
But in developed markets the big factor has been the rapid expansion of free papers.
Free papers are reinvigorating the market, says Larry Kilman, director of communications at WAN. In many developed markets it is clear that there is a long-term decline in paid-for newspaper circulation but it is being picked up on other platforms.
For instance, in the U.S., the circulation of paid-for papers dropped 4 percent from 2001 to 2005, hitting 53.3 million. It also dropped 2.3 percent in 2005 compared to the year earlier.
But that was nearly made up for by the growth of free papers, whose circulation grew by 127.9 percent over the five years, to 3.3 million copies. By 2005 free papers accounted for 5.8 percent of the U.S. newspaper market by circulation, up from 2.5 percent, according to WAN. The number of free titles grew to 34 from 19 over the period.
Free papers saw similar growth in Europe. By 2005, free papers had grown to make up 15.3 percent of all daily newspaper circulation, up from 7.6 percent, having grown 104 percent over the period, to 16.4 million. There are now 87 free daily newspapers in Europe.
The largest free daily in the world is Leggo in Italy, according to WAN, which has a circulation of just over 1 million. Metro in Britain follows with 977,000. The first entry for the U.S. is also Metro with a circulation of 668,000.
These growth trends seem likely to continue. As the freesheets bring in new readers, more are expected to launch, and paid-for papers will likely switch to free. Some newspaper companies are looking at their pricing policy, says Kilman, referring to what they charge per copy.
That trend appears even more likely in the U.S., where cover prices are lower to begin with, making the switch to free less of a revenue drain for publishers. In North America, says Kilman, newspapers are pretty much free, so the step from there to advertising-supported papers isn’t that great.
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