The Lost Cities for Daily Newspapers

Connecticut is the third smallest of the United States. One hundred miles wide, 50 miles high, and home to 3.3 million people, its largest cities are Bridgeport (population 138,000) and Hartford (pop. 133,000).

A Connecticut city of 22,931 people was lost last year. Lost, that is, for the daily newspaper industry. That’s the number of weekday newspaper circulations lost between April 1, 2004 and March 31, 2005 in Connecticut.

Twenty-three thousand people might not seem like a large number in other states, but it’s a big number in Connecticut. The people of that state would be very alarmed if the cities of Farmington, Ridgefield, New London, or Windham disappeared in just one year. In fact, 22,931 is larger than the populations in 127 of Connecticut’s 169 townships.

Newspaper executives often see their industry’s circulation declines as abstract percentages. Let’s put the percentages in perspective by equating circulation declines with city populations.

Although I haven’t seen the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s figures for newspaper circulation in big, populous states such as California, New York, Texas, or Florida, I expect that those states’ daily newspapers lost roughly the same proportion of circulations that Connecticut’s did.

That means the equivalent of a California city such as Anaheim, Riverside, or Stockton disappeared for the newspaper industry last year. In New York State, the city of Syracuse or the cities of Binghamton, Niagara Falls, and White Plains combined. In Texas, Brownsville plus Corpus Christie plus Waco. In Florida, Fort Lauderdale or Tallahassee disappeared. The equivalent of those populations were lost just last year for the newspaper industry.

In November, I noted that American daily newspaper circulation was beginning a free fall from which it won’t recover. It’s sad to see the industry’s own data so soundly back me up. The free fall is happening.

If American newspapers continue to lose circulation at their current compound rate of decline, they will lose a further one-quarter of their remaining circulation by 2012, half by 2021, and two-thirds by 2030 — by which time most American newspapers will probably have long since gone out of business because they can no longer attract sufficient numbers of readers.

If you’re a newspaper executive who expects to retire in this industry, you had better be at least 45 years old now. Otherwise, the newspaper industry will probably be gone before you retire.

And if you’re a newspaper executive aged 45 or higher, who expects to retire comfortably before the ink hits the fan, how securely will the industry funding your pension be in seven, 15, or 25 years from now? Black and white or gray all over?

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