Friday, April 18, 2014

Print ads fell 8.6% at papers in 2013: NAA

In the eighth consecutive year of decline, print advertising at the nations newspapers fell 8.6% to $17.3 billion in 2013, according to statistics released today by the Newspaper Association of America. 

This means the primary revenue stream for the nation’s publishers now is barely a third of the record $47.4 billion achieved as recently as 2005. 

The 2013 print revenues are the lowest level since 1982, when the industry produced sales of $17.7 billion in revenues, which in today’s dollars would be worth $43.4 billion.

In another key metric released prior to the holiday weekend by the industry trade group, digital ad sales gained 1.5% last year to $3.4 billion.  

The increase in digital sales at newspapers compares with the 17% surge in total U.S. digital ad revenues reported recently by the Internet Advertising Bureau. 

The IAB, an industry marketing organization, said that total digital ad sales in 2013 reached $42.3 billion, surpassing even the $40.1 billion spent on broadcast television advertising in 2013. 

In issuing its annual revenue summary for newspapers, the NAA included not only advertising sales but also the revenues that newspapers are reaping from audience fees, niche publications, marketing services and the production of live events. 

Taking all revenue categories into account, the NAA said the industry produced $37.6 billion in revenue in 2013, or a 2.6% decline from the prior year.  

Saying that the industry’s business model is “evolving,” the NAA said the industry is taking advantage of developments in technology, consumer behavior, and advertiser interest, to grow audience and diversify its revenue stream.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A thoroughly modern digital publisher

When Rafat Ali launched Paid Content in 2002, he created one of the earliest successful digital publishing businesses by, quite cleverly, covering the emerging digital publishing business.  

Today, Ali is helping to revolutionize digital publishing again with a new venture that pioneers the use of data to not only develop high-profile, brand-burnishing stories but also to generate fresh, recurring and defensible revenue streams. 

In the process, Ali has architected a thoroughly modern digital publishing business. Legacy and digital publishers would be wise to study – and perhaps emulate – it. Here’s the story:

Shortly after selling Paid Content to Guardian News & Media for some $30 million in 2010, Ali took a world tour to dream up his next big idea. As he traipsed from plane to hotel and hotel to plane, Ali realized that the information available to the 260 million people working in the $6.5 trillion global tourism industry was fragmentary, fragmented and hard to find. 

So, he launched www.Skift.Com in early 2012 to solve the problem – and, in the absence of significant competition, quickly became a leading news source for the travel industry. Unencumbered by a paywall, Skift sells high-CPM advertising and provides content to the likes of CNN, NBC, Quartz and Business Insider. Positioning itself as an industry thought leader, Skift also publishes two premium research reports each month, which it sells in a $99 package. 

Ali isn’t stopping with these well-established revenue streams. He now is embarked on gathering, analyzing and selling data about his readers – so he can sell it back to them through a product called SkiftIQ, which also costs $99 a month.  

In the first of what Ali says will be a growing array of datasets, he counted Twitter followers, Facebook likes, YouTube views and Instagram shares to quantify the marketing prowess of dozens of travel brands on the social media. Thus, Skift earlier this year determined that KLM was a more effective social marketer than American Airlines and Amtrak. 

While travelers may not care about the social-media mojo of their hotels, the information means a great deal to Marriott, Expedia, Lonely Planet, Airbnb, Norwegian Cruise Lines and all the other brands competing for mind- and market-share in a highly competitive and price-sensitive industry. 

Skift’s approach to gathering, crunching and selling data is not unique. It is but one of a growing number of next-generation digital publishers who understand that rich and granular data is the key to (a) personalizing content for busy consumers who only want to know what they need to know and (b) targeting ads for marketers who only want to pursue well-qualified prospects. 

Thoroughly modern digital publishers use data to identify and report stories; to understand and build audience; to improve reader loyalty and dwell time; to place targeted, high-value advertising, and to create products, like SkiftIQ, that they can sell to readers, advertisers or third-party services aiming to analyze consumer trends. 

Although Skift is a business-to-business publisher, consumer-facing media companies like newspapers and local broadcasters also can gather and disseminate data that is useful to their readers and advertisers. 

Zillow, which has gobbled up a chunk of the real estate readership and revenue that newspapers have lost in recent years, illustrates the allure of rich local data:

∷ From the consumer point of view, Zillow updates home and rental values on a granular, almost-daily basis. It ranks the schools adjacent to each home.  It estimates mortgage payments and property taxes.  It even has developed a Walkability score that gauges how often you are likely to need a car to access supermarkets, parks and cafes. 

∷ From the commercial point of view, Zillow has tons of pictures and data about homes in a neighborhood, which real estate agents (and consumers) can use to prospect for listings and develop price comparisons.  In addition to selling display ads, Zillow sells listings that enable agents to promote themselves in the areas they serve. 

With so many datasets available on the web and so many tools available to analyze the information, why couldn’t newspapers combine demographics, crime data, home prices, school scores, air pollution readings and other data to create neighborhood livability indexes? For inspiration (and free tools), take a look at the data-centric reports that ProPublica has developed to explore education quality, dialysis mortality and much more. 

With the help of the Census Bureau, local business associations and  companies like Pulse Research, publishers can capture data about commercial activity in their markets to track everything from the frequency of chiropractor visits to the volume of lawnmower sales. Beyond using this information to prod individual merchants to buy advertising, publishers or broadcasters can create trend reports that will appeal to consumers and businesses alike. 

To the extent local media companies become the leading data repositories in their communities, they will become indispensable to their readers and advertisers. That’s got to be good for their long-term franchise value.  

© 2014 Editor & Publisher

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lessons from the Digital First implosion

Schadenfreude broke out among some publishers today when Digital First Media killed an ambitious interactive publishing initiative and commenced layoffs to bolster the bottom lines of its newspapers in a reported plan to groom them for sale.  

But no one should be happy that Digital First hit the wall. All this episode proves is that digital publishing – which remains the only imaginable way forward for newspapers and other legacy media – is even harder than we think.  

Digital matters, because modern consumers – even those over the age of 55 – prefer to ingest news on a panoply of platforms including computers, smartphones, tablets and smart televisions. Even the American Press Institute, an arm of the Newspaper Association of America, recently concurred that “the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week.”

The problem with digital news publishing, as discussed here, is that few, if any, organizations have developed models that come close to successfully emulating the scale and profitability achieved in the best of times by the traditional publishing and broadcasting media. 

Sustainable revenues and profitability have eluded digital natives of all sizes, including both for-profit and not-for-profit ventures. And it most certainly has eluded legacy publishers, with newspaper companies like Digital First Media trying to crack the digital publishing code while battling an advertising collapse that has seen their collective revenues plunge by more than 50% since peaking at $49 billion in 2005.  

If digital publishing is so tough, then why are so many new entrants coming out of the woodwork?  The answer, quite simply, is that content has become a hot area for venture investing. To name but a few examples, Vice Media has raised $70 million, Vox Media has raised $60 million and BuzzFeed has raised $46 million, according to Tech Crunch, which raised $25 million itself.  This is not to mention Facebook, the biggest publishing platform of them all with $13 billion in cash, $7.9 billion in sales and a 37% operating margin. The magic of Facebook, of course, is that all the content is generated for free by its users.

Because venture investors favor exponential growth in audience and page views over such traditional metrics as revenue and profitability, they are content to underwrite these new digital ventures in the hopes that they will grow to the point they will merit an IPO or be acquired by a well-heeled player.  

Unfortunately for self-styled publishing visionary John Paton, the chief executive of Digital First, he picked the wrong vehicle and the wrong financial backers to pursue his digital quest. 

Until he nuked the ambitious Thunderdome interactive publishing effort, Paton enjoyed telling fellow publishers to stop grousing about the decline in print advertising dollars and to start “stacking digital dimes.” Although Paton’s privately held company does not report its financial results, his actions clearly suggest that the dimes did not accumulate as fast as dollars flowed out of the print side of his business, which even in its dissipated state demands attention because it continues to produce the preponderance of revenues and profits for his company. (This, of course, is also the case at every other newspaper.) 

Paton ran out of time and resources to pursue his vision because he had the wrong financial backers. Digital First Media is a collection of dozens of newspapers, including the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, that had been bought in bankruptcy by Alden Global Capital, a distressed-debt specialist looking to buy properties on the cheap that it could fix and flip for a quick profit at the earliest opportunity. 

In other words, the objectives of the Digital First investors were the antithesis of the patience – and multimillion-dollar commitment – required in the slog to identify successful interactive publishing models, whatever they eventually may turn out to be. 

It would be a mistake to view the failure at Digital First as a failure of digital publishing or a reason to stop trying to get it right.   

The only thing this sad chapter proves is that the pivot from legacy to digital publishing is going to be harder than we imagined. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

State of the news: Shakier than you think

Excuse me for not cheering the renaissance of journalism in the digital era, which I would be pleased to toast if there were one. 
But the reality is that the businesses that historically have funded local journalism are cutting coverage at the same time that most of the hundreds of new digital entrants are struggling to achieve financial sustainability. 
We know this – and much more – from the annual State of the News report from the Pew Research Center, which was released last week. The key findings in this report are must-reading for anyone who worries about who in the future will produce comprehensive, consistent local coverage and rigorous public-interest journalism.  
Here are the most salient, and sobering, points in Pew’s data-rich report:
Fully 93% of the 70,000 journalists in this country actually continue to be employed by newspapers and local TV stations, not the digital newcomers. All but a handful of large and well-funded digital news start-ups have no more than four overworked and under- or un-paid employees. (Pew did not count radio journalists, though the Radio Television News Directors Association reports that the average is one newsperson per station.) Here’s where most American journalists work: 
With newspaper advertising revenues plunging by more than 50% since hitting a record $49 billion in 2005, newsroom staffing at the chief industry employing journalists has dropped by a third from its peak in 1990. Because the remaining reporters are required to tweet, blog, take pictures, make videos and more – sometimes even held to demanding productivity quotas like these at the Portland Oregonian – there is less time than ever to mind beats and chase enterprise projects. As you can see from the annual newsroom employment census conducted by the American Society of News Editors since 1978, the ranks today are at a historic low:  
Although Pew reports that network news divisions have been trimmed by nearly half in recent years, staffing has remained flat at local TV stations, which employ the second greatest number of journalists after newspapers. But local station owners have thinned the gruel by increasing the number of daily hours they broadcast news by an average of 46% since 2003 without increasing news-gathering resources. As illustrated below, 235 of the 952 of local TV stations – fully 25% of them – have no news staff at all, preferring to fill their air with recycled coverage provided by other broadcasters in their markets. The number of outsourced newscasts is likely to rise in the wake of $8 billion in consolidations last year that saw more than 300 TV stations purchased by companies who in many cases already operate a competing channel in the market served by the new acquisition. Pew says the number of outsourced newscasts “has grown exponentially in just the past two years.” Stay tuned for more.      
Pew reports that most digital news start-ups, including the likes of the Huffington Post and Global Post, have yet to figure out sustainable, profitable business models. This is especially true, as discussed here, in the case of non-profit ventures. As an indication of how far digital news organizations have to go to approximate the economic strength of the  traditional media, digital news outlets have captured barely $5 billion, or 7%, of the $60 billion in annual advertising and subscription revenues generated by news organizations. Here’s the breakdown: 
Noting that “many native digital outlets are still unprofitable,” Pew concludes that “the question of whether digital news outlets can ultimately replenish the loss of legacy jobs and reporting resources hinges on creating the kind of successful business model or models that have proved elusive…. Most analysts say this growing investment in digital news does not mean the industry has figured out a consistent formula for monetizing that news.”
Amen to that.   
While the digital revolution has created unprecedented capabilities for everyone to publish and promote content (which may or may not qualify as journalism), we are a long way from the point that the newcomers are strong enough to replace the traditional media whose businesses are being challenged by said revolution. 
So, the State of the News at the moment is, at the very least, shaky. If not a little scary. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Get ready for the Internet of Everything

What do smart smoke detectors, interactive underwear and electronic toll tags have in common? 

They, and a growing number of sensors in myriad places, are linked to the Internet, creating vast new sources of real-time and individualized data that can be sliced and diced in ways that, for good or evil, will change information consumption and commerce – and roil the media business all over again. 

By most accounts, the Internet of Everything, Everywhere, All the Time and Almost Everyone is coming soon. 

The number of Internet-connected sensors on inanimate devices (like milk-expiration apps in refrigerators) and living creatures (like ovulation monitors implanted in cows) is expected to quintuple to 50 billion by 2020, according to Cisco Systems (video), one of the many companies counting on the next turn of technology to help sell all sorts of new hardware for homes and business.  

Sensors that passively record the air quality in your home, your heart rate at the gym and the moment you cross the Tappan Zee Bridge will capture an unprecedentedly “holistic picture” of your behavior and your environment, says Shawn G. DuBravac, the chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association.  

“While one sensor might tell us something we want to know, multiple sensors deployed in conjunction might be able to tell us something previously unobserved,” writes DuBravac in this whitepaper. “Recommendations derived from these sensor arrays can become more than the sum of their parts.” 

Although the brewing tsunami of holistic information may be valuable to individuals and businesses, it also could turn out to be invasive and creepy. Only time will tell. 

But Google left little doubt that ubiquitous tracking is on the way – in a big way – when it purchased a company called Nest for a nifty $3.2 billion in the opening days of the year.  Nest makes Internet-connected thermostats and smoke detectors that continuously monitor the environment in your home to turn down the heat if you sleep late on Sunday or ping your smartphone when the toast burns. One appealing feature of the $130 smoke detector is that it can be silenced by a flick on your phone or a wave of your arm. 

While the price Google paid for Nest represents less than 6% of the ample cash in its coffers, the transaction raised eyebrows – and some hackles – because it was another step in the tech giant’s growing ability to meticulously monitor our movements. 

Google already has the capability to learn the location of our smartphones, the pattern of our searches, the contents of our emails, the engagements on our calendars, the names in our address books, our activity on Google+, the media we consume and a good deal about how we shop and spend our money (as mobile payment technology rolls out, Google will know even more).

With the acquisition of Nest and the additional home-security products (baby monitors, burglar alarms, electronic door locks, etc.) that undoubtedly are on its roadmap, Google will have the theoretical capability – which it so far says it will not use – to seamlessly monitor your activities while you are in the comfort of your home. If and when Google perfects the self-driving car, the company also will be able to track your movements when you are on the go.   

Although everyone loves the idea of a smoke detector that can silenced without fetching a ladder, the Internet of Everything – as suggested in the cart0on below – means our lives will be monitored, measured, managed and potentially manipulated in ways we cannot fully appreciate today.  

With respect to the media business, we already are well into the early days of data-driven content presentation and consumption: 

∷ When you search “weather” on Google, Bing or Yahoo, you get the forecast for your precise location. 

∷ Once you select a few songs to launch a custom Pandora channel, the site learns from your ongoing behavior the sort of music you like. 

∷ Based on the movies you watch, Netflix suggests additional programs you might want to see.  

Going further, Amazon long since has mastered the art of using data capture and predictive analytics to make the cash register ring. As you contemplate a buying a book or power drill at Amazon, the site skillfully points you to additional products that “customers like you” have bought. The recommendations are almost always spot on. 

The good news is that the Internet of Everything creates new opportunities for media companies and the marketers who buy advertising from them. The bad news is that it creates new threats for media companies and their advertisers. The challenge is figuring out which is which.  

Although the full implications and opportunities of the Internet of Everything remain to be revealed, it needs to be on everyone’s personal and professional radar. Ladies and gentlemen, start your sensors.  

© 2014 Editor & Publisher

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

So long again, Chicago Daily News

On March 4, 1978, the presses fell silent for the last time at the Chicago Daily News, an iconic and crusading newspaper that was unable to adapt to changing times. The following article, which originally appeared here in 2005, is reprinted as a reminder of what happens when a paper runs out of readers, revenues and ideas.

"It's fun being the publisher when things are going well," squeaked the young man who stumbled awkwardly to the top of a battered desk in the unusually silent newsroom of the Chicago Daily News. "But it's no fun today."

Swallowing a nervous giggle, Marshall Field V cleared his throat and read the assembled staff the short, typewritten death warrant of one of the most distinguished newspapers in American history.

An agonizing month later, on March 4, 1978, the Daily News signed off with the jaunty banner, "So long, Chicago."

The line was written by the late nightside copy desk chief, Tom Gavagan, a chain-smoking, working-class Irishman who seemed to own only two shirts -- one in burnt orange, the other in avocado green. The tears in Gav's eyes weren't from the smoke.

Although it happened 35 years ago, the story is worth telling today, because many of the zany, brainy people who made that paper sing aren't here to talk about it any more. They were my mentors, comrades and friends, and I cherish their memories.

But this isn't just ancient history. It is a valuable reminder to today's media companies of what happens when you run out of readers, revenues and ideas all at the same time.

The Daily News, like most afternoon newspapers, succumbed at the age of 102 to a declining audience and rising expenses.

Its readers had moved on. On to the suburbs, where delivery trucks couldn't reach them with a paper that didn't come off the press until afternoon. On to the sofa, where they favored Three's Company on television.

There were no home computers, no Internet, no iPods and no cellphones to get between our readers and us in 1978. Still, circulation dropped. The management was changed. Circulation dropped. We redesigned the paper. Circulation dropped. We tinkered with the product. Circulation dropped.

In the end, there was nothing left to do. Some 300 people lost their jobs, and Chicago lost a great newspaper.

The Daily News, in its best days, was a cutting-edge conscience in conservative Chicago, a husky, brawling town that wasn't always ready for reform. The paper stood fast against official incompetence and government corruption and stood tall for civil rights and the little guy. For years, the Daily News stubbornly held its price to a penny, so as to be affordable to laborers heading home from work.

It was one of the first newspapers to have foreign correspondents, to print photographs or to cover that new-fangled medium, radio. Its widely syndicated coverage won 13 Pulitzer Prizes, including three for meritorious public service.

The Daily News cultivated a limitless array of talent over a century, including Eugene Field, George Ade, Ben Hecht, Finley Peter Dunne, Carl Sandburg, Peter Lisagor, M.W. Newman, Lu Palmer, Lois Wille and our latter-day franchise player, Mike Royko.

The list is too long to print here. But the Daily News, in its classy way, printed the name of everyone working on the staff on the day the paper folded.

My name was on that list. It remains one of proudest, and saddest, moments of my life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Big Data zeros in on ad inefficiency

John Wanamaker, the innovative Philadelphia merchant who pioneered the modern department store in the Gilded Age, was such a fan of newspapers that he is credited with buying the first full-page ad.  

But even Wanamaker knew that the most efficient form of advertising available in the 1890s wasn’t terribly efficient at all. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted,” he is famously reported to have said. “The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Nowadays, Wanamaker could find out, with considerable precision, by hiring Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), a Virginia-based company that mines all manner of data to determine not only the optimum ways to buy advertising but also where to locate bank branches and which under-performing entrees to nix from restaurant menus. 

In fact, as we will see in a moment, a modern-day retailer did hire APT to scrutinize the efficacy of its ad expenditures.  While publishers won’t be thrilled with the results, the study is a valuable lesson for media companies in the power of Big Data to either support – or subvert – their businesses. 

First, the background: A privately held company, APT received a hefty $100 million in equity capital last year from Goldman Sachs, making it one of the biggest players in the world of predictive analytics, the practice of sifting mounds of Big Data for patterns that help companies make money, save money or, ideally, do both at the same time.

With customers like Walmart, Lowe’s, Office Depot, PetSmart, CVS, Target, Walgreen’s and many other global merchants, APT asserts that it captures and crunches 20% of data generated in the “U.S. retail economy.” It bounces this rich transactional data against everything from weather records to Twitter streams to help companies “measure the profit impact of pricing, marketing, merchandising, operations and capital initiatives.”  

Given the roughly $14 billion that national and local brands spend annually on newspaper advertising in the United States, it was only a matter of time before one of them asked APT to answer the question that vexed John Wanamaker: Which advertising dollars are being wasted?

In a white paper published here, APT reports that it ran the numbers for an unidentified national “big-box” retailer with a $100 million advertising budget. “On average,” APT stated, “newspaper advertising did not pay back,” unless the merchant had saturated a market with a large number of stores.  “In markets with low presence, the cost per store far exceeded the incremental marginal dollars created by the [ad] circular,” said APT. “Removing underperforming markets eliminated an additional $5 million in waste from the marketing budget, while having minimal impact on revenue.”

Because that “waste” represents publisher revenues, the problem for local media companies is obvious. If this sort of analysis catches on widely – and it’s likely that it will – then it will play havoc with the business models of local publishers and broadcasters. Armed with better data than ever about the efficiency of their ads, marketers are bound to either bargain for lower rates or cut spending. Or both. 

The consolation for local media companies at the moment is that only the largest merchants have the sophistication, resources and motivation to employ services like APT. But this technology – like all technology – will get faster, better, cheaper and become widely available in the fullness of time. As the awareness and adoption of predictive analytics inevitably ramps up, here is how local media will be threatened: 

Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – and dozens of others – are investing heavily in capturing as much data as they can from mobile devices, digital media consumption, social activities and online purchases. The current and future advertising, subscription and commerce businesses being pursued by the tech powerhouses depend on obtaining the maximum amount of actionable intelligence from as many individuals as possible, including who they are, how much money they make, where they live, who they know, that they are reading, where they are going, what they have bought, which videos they have uploaded, what they are shopping for and – most precious of all – how to generate more cash by influencing their future behavior. 

One way the big tech companies can capture more data is by offering cheap or free analytical services to the Main Street businesses that are the core clientele for every local media company. The businesses get cool new marketing tools and the techies get tons of additional data. 

Local media companies can defend against this threat – and build strong businesses for themselves in the future – by getting ahead of the tech behemoths. In other words, they need to establish themselves as savvy digital marketing sherpas before the Big Data guys get there. 

Because we are in the early days of Big Data, there is time for local media companies to get up to speed. But they have little time to lose.  

© 2014 Editor & Publisher

Friday, January 03, 2014

Mobile offers local media a digital do-over

The good news is that you only have to worry about one tech trend in 2014.  But it’s a doozy. 

The trend is the dramatic shift to mobile computing, a communications revolution rivaling the arrival of the Internet itself. The fast-moving swing to mobile from desktop computing is changing everything from interpersonal communications to news consumption to commerce.  
For newspapers and local broadcasters seeking to recapture some of the audience, revenues and relevance that they lost in the rather inelegant way they stumbled into Internet publishing in the 1990s, the shift to mobile computing represents a rare do-over. 

Because the mobile universe is largely a work in progress, there is time for legacy media companies to create transformational products to delight consumers and attract a host of advertising, subscription and transactional revenues. 
Local media companies have two advantages as they mobilize for mobile:

1.  They are unrivaled in the local power of their brands, their content-creation capabilities, their ad sales staffs and their ability to market new products through their existing media.
2.  Owing to their largely inept responses to the initial emergence of the Internet, publishers and broadcasters know the pain of blundering into a new business paradigm without a deep understanding of the dynamics of the marketplace or a thoughtful strategic plan for capitalizing on opportunities and defending against threats.  

In the interests of preventing history from repeating itself, here’s what everyone needs to know about this disruptive, compulsive new technology platform:

At this writing, smartphones were buzzing in the hands of two-thirds of U.S. mobile users and tablets were present in a third of American homes, according to the latest research from, respectively, the Nielsen marketing service and the Pew Research Center. 

These statistics don’t take into account the enormous load of electronic goodies that changed hands over the holiday season. So, it is safe to say that Americans in 2014 will be even more wirelessly wired for individualized, on-demand information consumption than ever before. And I do mean wired. 

Fully 79% of the 181 million Americans who own smartphones reach for them within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning, according to a survey last year by IDC.  And here’s what they do: 78% check email, 73% browse the web, 70% use Facebook, 64% get directions, 60% play games, 57% search for information, 44% read news or sports, 43% talk and/or text, and 37% make or view videos.  

This has unhinged news consumption. In comparing preferred news sources among Americans, Pew found 68% chose television in 1991 vs. 55% in 2012, 56% chose newspapers in 1991 vs. 33% in 2012 and 54% chose radio in 1991 vs. 33% in 2012. By contrast, 30% of Americans named the Internet and mobile media as their preferred news outlets in 2012. A separate Pew study in 2013 found that the Internet is the top news choice for nearly half of those under the age of 45, as compared with the 17% in the cohort who favor newspapers. 

The mobile revolution is being powered by devices and data networks that are getting faster, better and relatively cheaper all the time. Apple says the processing speed of the latest top-of-the-line iPhone is 40 times faster than the original device released in mid-2007. The new 4G wireless networks being deployed by most carriers generally can download data three to four times faster than the 3G networks they replace. 

What will people do with this ferocious fingertip computing power? In addition to all of the above behaviors, they will watch copious amounts of video and shop. 

The researchers at Strategic Analytics predict mobile video consumption will nearly sextuple to 8.6 exabytes of data in 2017 from 1.5 exabytes in 2013. To put that in perspective, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt famously said that humans up until 2003 had produced only 5 exabytes of information since the dawn of civilization.   

Although the National Retail Federation at at yearend was expecting only a 4% growth in fourth-quarter sales in 2013, it predicted a 13% to 15% surge in online shopping for the period.  Starting earlier and more forcefully than ever before, mobile commerce represented a third of eCommerce on the Monday before Thanksgiving, according to IBM Corp. 

These (and other) new behaviors are shifting audience away from traditional PCs and laptops.  Noting that some 15% of digital page views were consumed on mobile devices by mid-2013, Mary Meeker, the Silicon Valley investor and analyst, has predicted that mobile use in 2014 will double to 30% of the world’s Internet traffic. 

That estimate may prove to be conservative. Facebook reported that nearly 70% of its daily users in September accessed the social site from mobile devices. BuzzFeed gets 50% of its traffic from mobile, YouTube serves 41% of its page views on mobile and Forbes delivers 35% of its views on mobile, according to a survey last fall by the DigiDay website. 

With so many eyeballs moving to smaller screens, advertisers are bound to follow.  Analysts at BIA/Kelsey predict that mobile advertising volume will triple from to $20.7 billion in 2017 from $7 billion in 2013. Significantly, they believe that half of the spend will be at local media, generating $10.8 billion in local revenues in 2017 vs. $2.9 billion in 2013. 

With so many moving parts to ponder, media companies have lots to do to scope out the mobile marketplace.  If they fail to make the pivot this time, there probably won’t be a third chance. 

© 2014 Editor & Publisher

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

UC-Berkeley invites international journalists

Applications are being accepted through Jan. 4 for a unique program providing mid-career journalists from outside the U.S. with an opportunity to pursue advanced professional training and academic study at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.
In the non-degree Visiting Scholar program, participants can audit courses offered at the journalism school and in other disciplines, drawing upon the extensive resources and community life of a major research university. Disclosure: I am the director of the program.
A former visiting scholar was recruited after completing the program by one of the Europe's biggest publishers to be editor in chief of a successful print magazine as it transitions to the digital era. "I feel I am in the middle of a change in the media industry and that I'm actually in charge now," she wrote after assuming her new position. "The information and new ideas I got [at Berkeley] have been absolutely priceless." 
Another former visiting scholar started her own long-form online magazine after returning home, which already has begun winning journalism prizes and generating revenues through subscriptions and eBooks. "I really never before had been forced to think about how to make a profit with journalism," she said. "Your program was the reason I was brave enough to think of something new."  
Journalists accepted to the program can participate for either the entire 2014-2015 academic year or for a single semester of their choice. Information about the program, including fees and application requirements, is here. The deadline for applications is Jan. 4.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How NPR lures younger digital audiences

The people who listen to NPR are a lot like those who read newspapers. They tend to be wealthier, better educated and more thoughtful than the population as whole. And, like newspaper readers, they are older than the broader population, too. 

But there’s one major difference between NPR and most newspapers: The managers at NPR have moved aggressively to create differentiated digital products to attract new, and significantly younger, audiences than their traditional radio listeners. In a moment, we’ll take a look at how they did it. First, let’s look at how well they did:

While the median age of the NPR radio audience is 49, the median age of its web visitors is 40 and the median age of its podcast users is 36, according to a survey published on its website. This compares to the national median age of 38.

The age differences across the NPR media result from the fact that each platform attracts its own, distinct following. While 18% of web visitors tune in to NPR radio, only 12% of radio listeners visit the website, according to the audience survey. 

The podcast service, which serves nearly 25 million downloads a month, delivers the added bonus of encouraging two-thirds of its relatively young listeners to listen to radio broadcasts at least once a week. While there’s no way of knowing if podcast users will turn into lifelong radioheads, it’s better for NPR to have them periodically engaging with the legacy platform than iTuning it out altogether. 

Now, let's look at the newspaper industry, where the story is not as bright. 

The median age of a typical newspaper print reader is 58 and the average age of a news website reader is 49, says Greg Harmon of Borrell Associates who has surveyed users at scores of newspapers for more than a decade. “These audiences,” said Harmon in an interview, “get a year older every year.”

Another long-time industry watcher, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, reported in October that people under the age of 50 spend notably less time perusing the news each day than their elders. After studying news consumption for a decade across every age group, Kohut concluded that individuals ranging in age from 18 to 47 “have so far shown little indication that they will become heavier news consumers as they age.” 

Facing the same daunting demographic headwinds as newspapers, the management of NPR embarked on a thoughtfully conceived strategy to export their assets and brand to digital platforms to attract different, yet complementary, audiences. To do this, they created a magazine-style website and a comprehensive podcast library featuring audio from more than 50 local affiliates and other providers. 

Where newspapers for the most part export the look, feel and content of the printed product to the web – and, in many cases also to smartphones and tablets – the NPR efforts are purpose-built to leverage the full array of digital technology for each audience and application. 

NPR had an advantage over newspapers: As an audio-only medium seeking to project its brand to the highly visual digital realm, NPR had to learn how to acquire and use pictures, videos, maps and other graphic elements.  To do so, it took its cues from successful native digital publishers, unfettered by the stubborn obeisance at most newspapers to a format inspired by the need to efficiently craft pages the way Gutenberg did. 

Because NPR was free to start from scratch, its website looks, and functions, like a truly interactive medium, where it is easy to find related content, navigate to a local affiliate, add or read comments, and share an article or audio clip via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or email. There are revenue opportunities at every turn, including links to the NPR Shop and – this is, after all, public radio – where visitors like you can make a donation. 

Attuned to the desire of modern consumers to customize their content consumption, the podcast section of the website features a “mix your own” playlist tool, tapping a rich and easily searchable library of content indexed by topic, title and provider. The organization, design and convenience of the NPR podcast environment actually surpasses the podcast section of the estimable iTunes store.  

The NPR digital strategy creates multiple entry points for consuming multiple types of content on multiple types of media on multiple types of platforms. As such, it is the antithesis of the one-size-fits-all content and presentation employed by most newspapers across their digital media.  

The difference in strategies between NPR and newspapers would not matter if publishers were continuing to gain readers and revenues. But print penetration is at a modern-day low and advertising revenues are less than half of what they were as recently as 2005.  

Publishers interested in turning things around should tune in to the NPR strategy. 

© 2013 Editor & Publisher

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Job 1 for newspapers: Audience development

While strategic audience development ought to be the top priority at every newspaper, efforts toward fulfilling this vital mission are fitful and far between at many publications. This has got to change, if the industry intends to sustain its strength. 

The bad news for newspapers, as discussed here, is that a significant majority of the adults in the typical community don’t subscribe to the paper in either its print or digital incarnations. But the flip side of this problem is that the abundant population of non-readers in every community represents a substantial base of potential consumers for the transformative and delightful new products that publishers could bring to market – if they put their minds to it. 

For the avoidance of doubt, a static, iPad-friendly PDF of the day’s print edition does not, IMHO, qualify as a transformative and satisfying digital product. 

It’s not that newspapers neglect audience building. They don’t. But their outreach is aimed almost exclusively at capturing the increasingly rare customer who reliably pays for print or digital access for months, if not years, on end. Those are great customers and any business would be glad to have them.  

But the population of steadfast loyalists is dwindling, as modern consumers take advantage of the digital media to customize the news, entertainment and information they ingest. Given shifting consumer preferences, newspapers need to think differently, if not to say obsessively, about how to serve – and profit – from individuals who don’t look, think or behave like traditional subscribers. Unfortunately, most newspapers don’t. 

Here’s why they should: 

:: Falling readership. Since peaking at 63.3 million subscribers in 1994 (the year before the Internet entered the public consciousness), weekday newspaper circulation today is 38 million to 43 million, as detailed here. Back in 1994, 63.5% of American households subscribed to newspapers, according to an analysis of census data. Today, barely one in three homes take a newspaper.

Rising competition. Modern consumers are hooked on the power conferred by the digital media to pick and choose what, where, when and how they get news and other information. The Pew Research Center last year found that two-thirds of Americans visited upwards of three or more outlets to keep up with current events. Twenty percent of urban dwellers accessed six or more news sources, while 11% of rural residents consulted half a dozen or more sources. 

Demographic drift. Most young consumers simply don’t dig newspapers, leaving publishers with ever-older audiences that eventually will age to extinction. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University earlier this year reported that 55% of individuals under the age of 35 preferred the digital media as their primary news source, as compared with 5% in the same age category who preferred print. 

Because there is no reason to believe these trends are likely to reverse, publishers hoping to sustain and reinvigorate their valuable franchises need to concentrate on finding new products and services to attract the readers they need – and the advertisers they want. 

Newspapers can create transformative and delightful products across the growing range of digital platforms by leveraging their unmatched content-creation capabilities, vast archives, unrivaled local marketing power and the deep commercial relationships they possess in each of the communities they serve. 

What audiences? What products? What platforms? 

The answers to those vexing questions will be revealed only after publishers invest the time and money necessary to develop thoughtful strategic plans that take into account local market conditions, the competitive forces arrayed around them, and the unique strengths and weaknesses of their respective organizations. Equipped with well-wrought strategic plans, publishers can invest wisely and confidently in opportunities to attract new audiences and revenue streams.

As mission-critical as strategic planning and audience building ought to be, these missions fail to be accorded the priority they deserve at many newspapers. Some newspapers delegate “audience” to the editor, who somehow is supposed to fix things by intuitively producing the “right” sort of content.  Some publishers assign audience development to the circulation manager, who somehow is supposed to boost subscriptions while curbing cancellations. Some papers allocate audience development to the marketing department, whose staffing, research and/or promotional budgets often are the first to be cut in moments of financial distress. At many newspapers, these missions aren’t even explicitly on the radar at all. 

When the development of transformative and delightful products is left largely to chance, the outcome is unlikely to be auspicious, because successful innovations seldom emerge from seat-of-the pants hunches, scattered responsibilities and episodic tactical skirmishes. 

Success requires a well-researched, well-conceived, well-articulated and well-communicated strategic plan that is the responsibility of everyone in the building. At most newspapers, this approach not only would be transformative but also would make life more delightful than it has been in years.

© 2013 Editor & Publisher

Monday, November 04, 2013

Are newspapers losing ‘mass media’ mojo?

Print newspaper circulation has fallen to the lowest level since the 1940s and the lowest household penetration rate in modern history, raising the question of when a mass medium is no longer a mass medium. 

Because a growing amount of news consumption is moving to digital platforms, the answer, as you will see by reading on, is complicated. Here is what we know:

As discussed here last week, U.S. publishers now are selling between 38 million and 43 million newspapers on the average weekday vs. 41 million copies on the average day in 1940. 

Back in 194o, when broadcasting was in its infancy and print was the state-of-the-art source for news and shopping information, Americans on average actually consumed more than one newspaper per day. Consequently, the number of newspapers sold in 1940 equalled 118% of all households and actually rose to 124% in 1950. 

In the intervening years, as illustrated immediately below, a host of demographic and technological disruptors has dropped newspaper consumption to the point that barely one out three households buys a print edition. Here is the trend (assuming 43 million in average daily circulation):

The ongoing decline in print readership raises the question of when a medium ceases to have sufficient critical mass to be considered a mass medium. Given average weekday newspaper circulation of 43 million, here’s a comparison of newspaper penetration with other media commonly found around the house:

Of course, newspaper content is no longer consumed in print alone. News and advertising produced by newspapers are widely consumed on computers, mobile phones and laptops. 

Based on data obtained from comScore, the Newspaper Association of America reports that 141 million individuals are consuming digital content from newspapers each month. With some 40 million homes taking print papers and more than one person often reading the same print edition, it is fair to assume that print readers represent a significant, but incalculable, percentage of the 141 million digital visitors cited by the NAA.  

Setting aside the duplication issue, the 141 million online newspaper readers would be the sixth largest digital audience in the country. Here’s where newspapers fit in:
While audience size certainly matters, the next question is how deeply visitors engage with newspaper websites, which is a good indication of their utility to users and, thus, their value to advertisers.  

As illustrated in the next table, news (and most other) sites are not nearly as engaging as Facebook, where Alexa.Com reports that visitors on average spend nearly 30 minutes per session and consume an average of 14.25 page views per visit. By comparison, visitors spend less than 4 minutes per session at the New York Times and NBC News sites. Engagement is even lower at local newspaper sites, as evidenced by the data below for the San Jose Mercury News, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and the Peoria Journal Star, in the heart of the nation. 

The biggest question of all is how well a digital publisher monetizes the eyeballs it attracts. The comparison is not easy, because traffic-grabbing sites like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Amazon draw their revenues from different sources than those pursued by newspapers – namely search, software sales and commerce.  

But the display-advertising models at Facebook and AOL, which happen to bracket newspapers in the size of their respective digital audiences, are reasonably comparable to those employed by most newspapers. Heres how sales volume compares: 

In 2012, Facebook generated $5.1 billion in revenues, newspaper digital media generated an aggregate $3.4 billion in advertising sales and AOL generated $1.4 billion in advertising sales. (These figures don’t include the fees that some newspapers charge for digital access or the subscription fees that AOL charges to those who use it to connect to the Internet.) 

A comparison of the revenues among the three contenders shows that newspapers in 2012 generated $23.90 in advertising revenue per digital subscriber, as compared with $29.18 for Facebook and $10.72 in ad-only sales for AOL. 

While newspapers can claim to be competitive in attracting a large number of unique (but not necessarily deeply engaged) visitors for their digital products, the real problem is that their print business – which still delivers 75% of the industry’s total advertising sales (and perhaps 90%, if you count print circulation revenue) – has been contracting relentlessly for more than seven years. 

As illustrated in the next chart, print ad sales, which peaked at $47.4 billion in 2005, were only $18.9 billion in 2012, representing a 60% decline for the period. Meanwhile, digital ad sales grew 66% from $2 billion in 2005 to $3.4 billion in 2012. While robust, the rate of digital advertising gain at newspapers was barely a third of the 193% growth achieved by the over-all online industry, where the Internet Advertising Bureau reports that revenues surged from $12.5 billion in 2005 to $36.6 billion in 2012. 

The $27 billion drop in newspaper ad revenues between 2005 and 2012 is equal to the annual sales of more than five Facebooks. While newspaper revenues have fallen in every quarter since the first three months of 2006, Facebook just announced that its sales in the first nine months of this year surpassed the revenues for all 12 months of 2012. 

Where does that leave us? 

With aggregate revenues this year likely to remain comfortably north of $20 billion, the newspaper industry remains a substantial business. But it is less than half as substantial as it was a scant seven years ago.   

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Struggling industry throttles newspaper metrics

Unable to arrest years of declining ad sales and sliding print circulation, two key trade groups representing the newspaper industry have done the next best thing: 

They effectively have stopped reporting on the metrics that make it possible to measure – and, therefore, understand and manage – the industry’s ongoing challenges. 

Earlier this year, the Newspaper Association of America, an industry-supported trade organization, decided to stop producing the quarterly revenue reports that have charted the advertising slump that has carved aggregate industry revenues from a record $49.4 billion to $22.3 billion in 2012. 

As reported here, my analysis shows that ad sales slipped about 5.5% in the first six months of the year. Assuming the industry does no better or worse in the last half of the year, it is on track to deliver approximately $21 billion in ad sales for all of 2013. 

The NAA, which publishes sales records dating to 1950 here, promises to release a once-a-year revenue report scheduled to debut in March, 2014. 

While the revenue picture may come into greater focus next spring, a series of changes in the way newspapers report readership has made it impossible to authoritatively compare ongoing changes in circulation.  

As has been customary for years, the Alliance for Audited Media, which formerly was known as the Audit Bureau of Circulation, today announced the publication of the second of its semi-annual circulation reports. But this time, unlike all the others, the organization gave no clue as to whether circulation had gone up, down or sideways in the six-month reporting period. 

Because publishers no longer are “required to report the same information, it is not possible to come up with a macro [circulation] number,” said Neal Lulofs, the executive vice president of AAM in a telephone interview. 

Owing to a series of changes adopted by the industry-funded organization over the years, publishers no longer have to provide a five-day average of daily circulation. They also have the liberty of counting a woman who reads the paper in print, on her office computer, on her personal laptop, on her tablet and on her smartphone as five separate subscribers.  

Some newspapers take advantage of these options and others do not, eliminating seemingly forever the possibility of comparing apples-to-apples data across the industry – or even from year to year for the same publication, if it changes its reporting standards over time. 

Notwithstanding the limitations imposed by the inconsistent data, a few hardy analysts have been trying to gauge the public appetite for print newspapers as it has declined over the years. 

One of them, Ken Goldstein of Communications Strategies in Canada, pegs weekday print circulation in the United States at about 38 million copies, as compared with the 43.4 million subscribers reported in the Editor & Publisher Yearbook for 2012.  

The E&P number, which closely matches the last-available AAM data published this spring, appears to include both print and digital editions. Thus, the E&P data are not precisely comparable to Goldstein’s estimate. 

Setting aside the discrepancies in the admittedly imperfect data, one thing is clear: Newspaper circulation today is at, or below, its lowest level in modern history.  

The oldest available records from E&P show that weekday newspaper circulation averaged 41.4 million papers per day in 1940, as compared with 38 million to 43 million today. Daily circulation, btw, peaked at 63.3 million in 1984.   

But there is a big difference between 1940 and now: The population is a lot larger. 

Back in 1940, newspaper penetration actually surpassed 100% of households, because some families took more than one paper per day. Today, with the number of households three times greater than in 1940, there’s a paper in only one out of three homes. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Omidyar’s big, bold bet on next-gen news

First, came Warren Buffett. Then, Jeff Bezos. Now, Pierre Omidyar has become the third prominent billionaire to try his hand at finding a popular and profitable business model for funding quality journalism in the digital era. 

Apart from the common bond they share with a collective net worth approaching $100 billion, each of the business superstars is pursuing a distinctly different path in the quest for the elusive next-gen news model, as discussed more fully in a moment.  Given their divergent strategies, could they all be right? Only time will tell.    

But there’s no doubt that their energy, creativity and considerable wealth are welcome at a time that the digital revolution has driven the traditional purveyors of the news from distress to distraction to dysfunction to divestiture

With unquestionable entrepreneurial chops and demonstrated investment acumen, the three billionaires are bringing far more than bulging checkbooks to the challenge of how journalism will be funded and practiced in an age when ever-changing technologies are unhinging the ways that consumers get and, increasingly, give the news. 

The techno-tsunami has cut newspaper revenues by more than half, has all but killed Newsweek and continues to dangerously fragment commercial broadcast audiences. As the media behemoths tumble, the investments they historically made in funding journalism have crumbled (details here and here). 

Now, Buffett, Bezos and Omidyar (plus a few others), are stepping up to try to figure out how to pay for real journalism, as opposed to jiggly GIFs, for the generations to come. 

Each of the trio is taking a markedly different approach. Buffett, who has assembled a portfolio of more than five-dozen newspapers in two years, is aiming to refine and preserve the legacy publishing business. We’ll call him The Protector. Bezos almost certainly will try to move his newly acquired Washington Post away from its heavy reliance on print advertising and circulation to a state-of-the art digital business model. We’ll call him The Pivoter. Taking a third path, Omidyar announced last week that he intends to launch a bottoms-up digital model to create and distribute the news. We’ll call him The Pioneer.

Omidyar’s nascent, and evidently still evolving, effort looks to be the boldest, and riskiest, yet. To understand the challenges and opportunities he faces, it helps to see where the others are placing their bets.  So, let's start at the beginning:

The Protector.  Buffett, whose fortune is estimated at $58.5 billion by Forbes, was the first of the Big Three to plunge into the publishing business, buying the Omaha World Herald, his hometown paper, in 2011 with $200 million of the more than $35 billion in the coffers of Berkshire Hathaway, his legendary investment company. Within a year, Buffett’s newly formed BH Media spent a couple of hundred million more dollars to scoop up dozens of small and medium newspapers in relatively isolated and defensible markets. Eschewing metros like the Washington Post (where he has been a long-time stockholder and board member), Buffett professes to be so fond of newspapers that he will buy them even when their “economics” fall “far short of the size threshold we would require for the purchase of, say, a widget company.”  As a fiduciary responsible to his shareholders, he is bound to protect the profitability of his assets to preserve, if not enhance, their value. This puts him in the position of being a Protector of the traditional, 20th Century publishing model, not an innovator who is likely to blow it up. 

The Pivoter. Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos jolted but largely delighted the journalism community when he purchased the Washington Post with $250 million of his own money in a deal that closed earlier this month.  After getting over the shock of learning that they would be deprived of the long-running patronage of the Graham family, staffers of the iconic newspaper viewed the acquisition as a vote of confidence in the medium, if not themselves. But Bezos, who is the first digital native to buy a newspaper, didn’t build a $27.2 billion personal fortune by sticking to the conventional rules of book selling, retailing, web hosting, media delivery or any of the other industries he has disrupted. He undoubtedly plans to use the D.C. presence, journalistic resources and prestige of the Post to find new ways to build and monetize audiences in more high-tech ways than putting ink to paper.  Though he has to tread carefully as he repositions the business on the fly (as discussed here), Bezos is pursuing the path of a Pivoter as he endeavors to migrate from a print-based past to a profitably-pixelated future. 

The Pioneer. The least affluent of the billionaires with only $8.7 billion in personal assets, Omidyar last week declared that he would put at least $250 million into building a global network of journalists to deliver news on a platform optimized for the digital age. He said he chose the sum of his investment because it was what he would have paid, if he, instead of Bezos, had chosen to buy the Washington Post. Based on his thoughts here and excellent reporting from Jay Rosen here, Omidyar appears to be trying to find a way to capitalize on the two major forces reshaping the journalistic landscape and the appetite for news:  (1) Anyone, anywhere can publish anything at anytime and (2) users can control the content they consume at the time, place and platform of their choosing. The trick, as the eBay founder well knows from starting a for-profit Honolulu news site called Civil Beat, is to find an efficient, popular, scalable and eventually profitable model to that both captures the publics fancy and serves the public interest with bold and consequential reporting. To kick things off in a big way, Omidyar is hiring Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists who broke the NSA data-scraping story. Because he is starting an entirely new kind of business with little more than a blank white board, Omidyar, who promises to be personally active in building the still-unnamed venture, clearly can be characterized as a Pioneer.  

The saying here in Silicon Valley is that you can spot a pioneer because she’s the one with arrows in her back. But some pioneers are better at dodging arrows than others. Fortunately for those who care about journalism, Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar are two of the best of them. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Newspaper sales dive enters 8th straight year

As digital advertising sales soared 18% to a record high in the first six months of this year, the revenues of the publicly traded newspaper companies slipped an average of 5.5% to enter an eighth year of unabated decline.

Paced by a 145% increase in mobile ad sales, digital volume hit a half-year high of $20.1 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade organization. The sum is nearly equal to the $22.3 billion in sales collectively produced by the nation’s 1,382 dailies for all of 2012.

Assuming digital and newspaper sales pursue the same trajectory for the balance of the year, then digital revenues for the full 12 months will be more than twice the revenues produced by newspapers, whose aggregate sales hit a record $49.4 billion as recently as 2005. In a measure of the dizzying pace at which the marketplace is shifting, interactive revenues were $12.5 billion in 2005.

As illustrated in the chart below, the growth in digital advertising is taking oxygen from the other legacy media, too.

While broadcast television sales grew by 6.4% in the first half of the year, magazine sales gained 0.4% and radio sales were flat. The data were provided by their respective industry associations, the Television Bureau of Advertising, the Association of Magazine Media and the Radio Advertising Bureau.  

In the absence of information formerly reported by the trade association representing the newspaper industry, the 5.5% decline in publishing revenues is based on an analysis of the financial statements of the 10 publicly traded companies that own domestic newspapers.

The revenues of the group, which includes A.H. Belo, Gannett, GateHouse Media, Journal Communications, Lee Enterprises, McClatchy Co., New York Times Co., Scripps, Tribune Co. and the Washington Post Co., represent about a third of the nation’s newspapers. Because their holdings collectively include everything from tiny weeklies to some of the largest metros, the performance of the group probably is a fair indicator of where ad sales are going. 

But it will take until next spring before we know for sure, because the Newspaper Association of America has stopped producing the quarterly revenue reports that had been chronicling the stubborn revenue decline that has been under way since April, 2006.

Although the association’s online archives contain sales data dating back to 1950, the quarterly revenue reports produced by the NAA since 1971 are not going to be updated any more, according to Brooke Brennan, a spokeswoman for the association.

 “The NAA recently switched to a robust reporting that looks holistically at all of the member papers,” said Brennan in an email. “Due to the fact that the reporting is much more involved, it was determined that it would be best to focus the effort around a yearly report.”

Until more holistic information is available, here is what we know: