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May 03, 2007

Weak Newspaper Ad Sales?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

What follows is anecdotal, not statistical, even though some numbers are involved.

But hey, this is about newspapers, and that biz thrives on the personal, the anecdotal. (I'm excepting the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Investor's Business Daily and their ilk, natch.)

Circulations have been falling at big city dailies for a while now. And it's known that classified ad lineage is getting hit hard by Internet-based classifieds. Moreover, I'm pretty sure there are real statistics out there regarding ad lineage in general. I won't let that stop me from tossing your way a few numbers I collected.

Lately I've been noticing how anemic the Seattle Times -- largest circulation in Washington state -- has seemed. Some sections didn't appear to have many advertisements at all.

So I tallied the Business and Sports sections for four days this week, starting Monday. Institutional and public service ads were not counted.

The Sports section had 650 column inches of paid advertising out of a potential 5,544 inches -- 11.7 percent. Nearly half of that was on Monday, a big sports news reporting day. The average for Tuesday through Thursday was 8.9 percent.

The Business page had 132 ad inches out of 2,112 -- 6.3 percent. About half of that was due to a full backpage ad that appeared Tuesday.

If I were the paper's publisher, I'd be breaking out in a sweat over this sales performance.



posted by Donald at May 3, 2007


Wouldn't you have to compare the current column-inch counts to those from past years in order to see if there have been any declines? Figures like 11.7% and 6.3% don't mean much in isolation, considering that the paper is obviously never going to sell 100% of the space.

Posted by: Peter on May 3, 2007 1:48 PM

The internet (where I make my living) is certainly the major factor in this decline. Job hunting is now an almost entirely online affair.

I've learned to distrust newspapers as a result of reading a more wide variety of sources on the internet. For instance, The New York Times virtually created the Duke rape hoax in an effort to advance its neo-Marxist liberal agenda of race/sex/class. The weblog, Durham in Wonderland, provided factual coverage of the hoax that eventually caused the Times to retreat from its attempt to lynch those three Duke lacrosse players.

But, they haven't given up at the Times. Today's front page featured a deliriously stupid article about how black athletes are victims of racism because sports officials penalize them more frequently than white players. (I read the front page on the web. Won't pay for the Times.)

Years ago, I really believed that the Times was a dispassionate source of information. I don't believe that any more. And I wonder now how my perception of crucial issues in the past (like the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, etc.) were shaped by papers like the Times.

Newspapers reporters are overwhelmingly doctrinaire leftists. I know this also from playing the game with them as a musician doing interviews. I view all newspapers with a great deal of skepticism. If they can't clean up their act, they deserve to die.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on May 3, 2007 1:50 PM

Peter -- Yes, I should compare. But it has been many years since I had advertising and journalism classes and almost as many years since I saw statistics and rules-of-thumb regarding the size of the "news hole" for newspapers.

My foggy memory has it that, time was, folks were complaining that news holes were getting too small. Until another commenter hops in with good information, let's say that advertising normally filled about a third to a half of a paper back in the good old days.

Thomas -- I agree that newspapers tend to have a skew to the left and that this was tougher to detect back before talk radio and the web. Many observers, me included, wish that newspapers, TV stations and networks, etc. would hop off the sham of being "unbiased" or "objective" and admit their POV as is done in the UK (the Beeb excepted). That wouldn't cure their ills, but admission of the truth might open editor's and publisher's minds to the fact that their own product is as much to blame as the onset of newer media.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 3, 2007 3:20 PM

Newspapers are like Buicks...mainly purchased by an older audience that is dying off.

Posted by: Bob Grier on May 3, 2007 5:23 PM

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