It’s the official end of an era and a sad day in my house. The writing’s on the wall, but sadly not on my driveway each day. Effective immediately I am “this” close to not being a daily newspaper subscriber. I know, who cares right? But hang on and know that I have subscribed to my local daily paper for more than 30 years. I love nothing better than reading every section of the paper while I relax in my jammies and drink my coffee. Sometimes I catch up and read several days at a time, but rarely do I not get to them.
Problem is, the paper has become just too damn expensive. My latest invoice reflects an increase in price that put it over the $100 mark…and I only get it Wednesday-Sunday! And try as I may to make headway with their subscription services department, they couldn’t or wouldn’t budge. Seems like they’d rather lose a loyal customer than offer a better deal. I know, I know, the cost of printing and delivering front page headlines continue to increase, but by gouging subscribers, are newspapers not pricing themselves right out of existence?
It’s not good, as the benefits of reading actual newspapers are far and wide. Not only does doing so involve the essential skill of reading; one also learns vocabulary, about other people and places, and so much more. Where else, in one sitting, can you read about what’s happening in your city and the world, politics, religion, sports, the economy, entertainment, business, trade and commerce, home and fashion trends, and of course the comics, horoscopes, letters to the editor, and even all those advertisement flyers? Think iconic news events and headlines, whether they be man landing on the moon, 9/11, or the Cubs winning the world series, and I’d bet the house it’s not a website that comes to mind.
I have loved newspapers for as long as I can remember and would have probably gone the print route for my career instead of the broadcast route had it not been for some college professors who convinced me my future was in TV news. I have no regrets there, but the love of print remained in my veins and still does.
It all began when I was a young girl and my friend Julie and I had a paper route. Yep, two girls rolling, rubber-banding, and delivering morning papers throughout our neighborhood. I can still envision how black our hands would get but how much fun we had pulling wagons behind our bikes filled with newspapers. From there it was a staff writer at the University of Oklahoma’s “Oklahoma Daily,” where I covered sports and editorials. After several years and a professional stint in TV news, I walked away from the news business and jumped to the other side as a publicity and media relations specialist. Roles were literally reversed as I then pitched stories to newspapers and it was always a part of my job to read the paper every day. I was in heaven scanning the pages looking for and clipping out any and all articles that had anything to do with the industry and places I worked for. I eventually went the freelance route and wrote for various magazines and newspapers. Today I still write for a monthly publication and I read. I read my daily newspaper.
But not no mo. Makes me sad.
But I’m alone.
Newspapers across the country are hurting as more and more Americans get their news digitally. According to journalism.org, the estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11 percent and 10 percent respectively from just one year prior. The Pew Research Center reports weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers fell 8 percent in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines and the lowest weekday circulation since 1945. What would historical archives be without the iconic photo of Harry Truman elatedly holding up the front page that incorrectly called the presidential election in 1948. Somehow Donald Trump doing the same thing regarding Hillary Clinton but on a tablet instead just doesn’t have the same impact.
And yet, digital seems to be the wave of the future if not already the present. Rare is it to talk to a millennial who subscribes to a newspaper, as they get their news on-line. Publications are embracing this as they move to offer more digital material and include free digital access to all paid subscriptions. So popular is digital data that according to the Pew Research Center, “The New York Times,” the nation’s second most popular paper after “USA Today,” added 500,000 digital subscribers in 2016, an increase of nearly 50 percent in just one year.
Still, discouraging trends can be seen in the number of actual daily newspapers in the U.S. In 1970 there were 1,748 dailies but that number was down to 1,286 in 2016. Yes, 1,200 daily papers is still a good number, but the fact that nearly 500 closed their doors is enough to make headlines considering the jobs that were lost and the customers who were abandoned.
Jobs still remain in newspaper industry but are fewer and far between. According to Bureau of Labor numbers, nearly 40,000 people work as reporters, editors, and photographers at daily and weekly publications. This doesn’t account for how many others are employed printing those papers, delivering those papers, and handling everything from customer service and circulation to staff human resources.
Who is hired is changing as drastically as what is covered and what is written. Sought after staff members are now not only investigative minds, skilled writers, and talented photographers, but tech whizzes as well. You can’t have or offer on-line content if you don’t have on-line savvy staff members.
Advertising is still the bread that feeds the beast and last year digital advertising held its own, accounting for 31 percent of newspaper advertising revenue, up from 17 percent in 2011. However, Pew reports double-digit declines in advertising revenue for the industry as a whole, with total ad revenue of $18 billion in 2016, nearly one-third of the $50 billion it was a mere 10 years ago.
In contrast, circulation revenue, the amount of money newspapers earn from subscribers has remained steady at around $11 billion, but it’s simply not enough to make up for advertising losses. Maybe that’s why my personal subscription rate has nearly doubled in just one year. Sadly, the revenue of my household doesn’t see the ROI or benefit of keeping the expense of newspaper subscription a worthwhile line item. Momma has to look after her bottom line too.
I’m not one to read the paper online so I’ll settle in with my Sunday only delivery for now and hope against hope that things change, prices decrease, they miss me and make me a subscription offer I can’t refuse, and I can go back to reading my daily paper. The news probably won’t be good and I won’t hold my breath.