Profits at most U.S. newspaper companies have been on a steady decline for years, as advertising budgets have dried up and print subscription numbers have diminished. A recent analysis by British media trade nonprofit Press-Gazette shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that death spiral.
The Press Gazette’s analysis, which looked only at daily print circulation numbers—excluding digital subscription numbers, as well as Sunday or other weekend editions—found that the top 25 newspapers in the U.S. saw their daily print circulations drop by 20 percent (or about 840,000 readers) between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of this year, from a combined circulation of 4.2 million to a total circulation of 3.4 million.
National papers suffered the steepest declines. According to the Press Gazette report, the three largest titles in the country—The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today—lost a combined total circulation of more than a half-million between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.
USA Today fared worst of any paper in the top 25. That Gannett property, with its hotel-heavy distribution, saw year-over-year daily print circulation declines of 62 percent, accounting for an average weekday circulation loss of about 303,000 papers.
The Wall Street Journal, which now boasts the largest daily print circulation in the U.S., lost 21 percent of its circulation since 2020’s first quarter, or about 208,000 papers. The New York Times, which has seen marked success focusing on its digital subscription businesses in recent years, saw its print circulation decline by 12 percent or about 48,000 papers.
Other top publishers that took big hits during this period included the New York Daily News (down 29,000, or 30 percent), the Arizona Republic (down 20,000, or 20 percent), the Chicago Sun-Times (down 13,000, or 18 percent) and New Jersey’s Star-Ledger (down 10,000 or 15 percent).
The Press Gazette’s analysis was based on circulation data supplied by newspaper companies to media transparency non-profit The Alliance for Audited Media.