The newspaper industry’ s effort to cover print advertising losses with digital ad gains, weak in 2010 and 2011, deteriorated further in the first half of this year.
Newspaper Association of America advertising statistics, posted last week, show $798 million in print losses for the first half of 2012 compared to the same period a year ago. That is only slightly offset by a $32 million gain in digital. The ratio of losses to gains is 25 to 1.
My colleagues at the Project for Excellence in Journalism and I suggested the ratio earlier this year as a summary revenue metric of how digital transformation at newspapers is faring. As reported in State of the News Media 2012, print ad revenue losses last year outpaced digital gains by 10 to 1.
For the first half of this year, print ad losses slowed slightly to 8 percent, compared to 9.2 percent for all of 2011. But digital advertising was up, year-to-year, only 1 percent in the first quarter and 2.9 percent in the second, on a much smaller base.
Companies like Journal Register, which filed for bankruptcy last week, and Advance, which is taking most of its papers to three days only of print, are betting the franchise on digital advertising. They claim they can grow it much faster than the norm, save on legacy costs and be well-positioned as advertisers and readers continue over the next few years to move away from print to digital. However the first half results raise the question again of whether the base is so small and progress so slow in dollars that digital first may fail to support much of a news operation. Rick Edmonds