Despite sharp revenue declines over the last five years, publishers of U.S. daily newspapers remain optimistic about the future of their industry.
After a year marked by solid growth in mobile products and a proliferation of paid content models, an overwhelming majority of publishers in a recent survey — 69 percent — expressed optimism about the future of their business. Only 6 percent said they were not optimistic. More than 400 publishers were surveyed in late 2013 as part of the second Publishers Confidence Index, the largest study of its kind, conducted by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Missouri School of Journalism.
Publishers were asked to rate their optimism about the future of the industry on a five-point scale, ranging from “very optimistic” to “not optimistic at all.” Nearly one in four (24 percent) identified themselves as very optimistic, while nearly half (45 percent) said they were somewhat optimistic. One quarter chose the midpoint on the scale, while 5 percent said they were not optimistic to some degree. Only 1 percent chose “not optimistic at all.”
Respondents answered a broad range of questions about efforts to establish new digital platforms, notably mobile products, and to capture new revenue streams. Details will be discussed in upcoming articles.
Answers to the optimism question closely mirrored the pattern established one year prior. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said they were “very optimistic,” 40 percent said they were somewhat optimistic and 31 percent indicated they were neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Four percent said they were not optimistic to some degree, with less than 1 percent choosing “not optimistic at all.”
Several publishers cited their efforts to reach readers and advertisers through a multitude of platforms and products. “We are well beyond the simple newspaper business,” said the publisher of a small daily in the Northeast. “We are into breaking news, online, and mobile. It is a full package.”
The positive outlook was broad. Researchers found no statistically significant differences in optimism by newspaper size and ownership type (public or private). Nor did age or gender of the publisher make a significant difference.
However, in larger newspapers, researchers did find a correlation between a high degree of optimism and the offering of a full suite of digital products for all platforms.
Publishers also were asked if their organizations had seriously considered reducing the frequency of their print edition by one or more days per week. Advance Publications received national attention in the last two years as it eliminated some days of home delivery in some cities served by its papers, including New Orleans, Portland and Cleveland.
The vast majority (79 percent) said they had not considered such a move in the coming year. Seventeen percent said they had; 4 percent said they already had stopped publishing on certain days of the week. These numbers are similar to those found in 2012. Neither ownership nor circulation size were significant factors influencing the responses. However, age of respondent was a significant factor in answers to this question. More than 80 percent of publishers in the age groups 45-54, 55-64 and 65 and over had not seriously considered dropping a day of publication, while among publishers under 45, 70 percent had not considered such a move.
Another question addressing the future of newspapers asked about the longevity of print editions: “Do you ever see a time coming when your organization will not publish a print edition?” Fifty-eight percent said “no,” 36 percent said “yes” and 6 percent said “maybe.” These numbers were slightly different from responses in the 2012 survey, when 62 percent said “no,” 33 percent said “yes” and 5 percent said “maybe.”
Those who answered “yes” were asked when the end of print might arrive. Answers to this question did vary significantly from the prior year. In the 2012 study, 41 percent of those who envisioned the end of print said it would happen in 10 years or less; in the 2013 study that percentage was 52 percent — a 27 percent increase.
In responding to this question, answers from publishers age 65 and over differed significantly from their younger counterparts. Seventy-three percent of publishers 65 and over did not foresee a time when their organizations would not publish a print edition, while the percentage of younger age groups that envisioned no end to print ranged between 58 and 62 percent.
The Publishers Confidence Index is funded by the Houston Harte Endowed Chair at the Missouri School of Journalism. Telephone interviews were conducted by the Center for Advanced Social Research. Faculty members of the Missouri School of Journalism crafted the questionnaire, with input from Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute.
Next Monday: Paid content passes a tipping point