To Find Newspaper Readers in the United States … Head East

Newspaper stackThe news about newspaper readership rates has been uniformly bleak over the past decade or so.

In fact, readership rates for daily print newspaper have declined almost 20% since 2001, according to trend studies conducted by market research firm Scarborough.

Today, national daily print newspaper readership rates stand at around 37% of adults, down from ~50% just a dozen years ago.

Interestingly however, there are distinct differences in readership rates based on geography. 

Readership appears to be highest in the Northeast and Industrial Midwest regions, whereas it’s significantly lower than the national average across the Southeast, Texas and the Pacific Southwest.

Which metropolitan market takes top honors for readership? It’s Pittsburgh, where ~51% of the adult population reads daily print newspapers.

Other high readership rates are found in a cluster of markets within a 250-mile radius of Pittsburgh, it turns out:

  • Pittsburgh Metro Area: ~51% of adults read daily print newspapers
  • Albany/Schenectady/Troy Metro: ~49%
  • Hartford/New Haven Metro: ~49%
  • Cleveland Metro: ~48%
  • Buffalo/Niagara Fall Metro: ~47%
  • New York City Metro: ~47%
  • Toledo Metro: ~47%

Only one other metropolitan market charts daily newspaper readership as high: Honolulu, at ~47% adult readership.

Highest and Lowest Daily Newspaper Readership by Major Metropolitan Market
(Source: AdvertisingAge Magazine)

At the other end of the scale are various Sunbelt urban markets. Here are the five metropolitan areas that bring up the rear when it comes to the lowest daily newspaper readership rates:

  • Atlanta Metro Area: ~23% of adults read daily print newspapers
  • Houston/Galveston Metro: ~24%
  • San Antonio Metro: ~24%
  • Las Vegas Metro: ~26%
  • Bakersfield Metro: ~26%

What’s the cause of these geographic discrepancies?

It may be age demographics, which tend to skew younger in these Sunbelt markets.

Perhaps it’s the ethnic composition of the markets – although pretty much all of them on both lists have diverse populations.

So I turn the question over to the readers:  If you have any insights (or even simply suspicions) to share, I welcome your comments.

4 thoughts on “To Find Newspaper Readers in the United States … Head East

  1. Much has been written about this — the competition from free online news sources, free “alternative” papers popping up, competition from social media, degradation of content due to the loss of advertising revenue (particularly lucrative want ads and job postings, etc.).

    I’m sure all that’s true. But I’d like to call out just one factor that nobody seems to talk about: the decision by many local papers years ago to drop their society pages.

    I presume newspaper owners and editors decided that “society” news was elitist — certainly not PC. In any event, they made a call to roll it way back.

    In Nashville, my home town, some enterprising would-be publishers saw an opportunity and rolled out a controlled-circ (i.e., free) “society” magazine, printed on coated newspaper stock, that they placed in supermarkets and shops in upscale zip codes. And they made a fortune. The magazine is published monthly and disappears from racks within days (if not hours). It’s full of pictures taken at parties (pay and private), events, weddings, you name it. Interestingly, it’s also chock-full of real estate ads as well as advertisements for all sorts of local businesses.

    Why has it been so successful? Because people like to see themselves and their friends in print. And they like scuttlebutt!

    I can’t help but think that newspapers have played a role in their own demise. It’s not just the digital revolution, though that certainly has played a role. It’s a cluelessness about what their subscribers want(ed) — the very things that make a local paper viable.

    Or, maybe, they just didn’t care; to them, maybe it was much more important to take (their own notion of) the “high road.”

  2. Oh, and as for geographic discrepancy, I would posit that cities in the sunbelt have seen vast inflows of people with no roots in their new communities.

    We’re talking percentages here. In years past, newcomers would have had no choice but to read the local paper to stay informed.

    Nowadays, they can go online to read their old hometown papers — including news about their favorite sports teams, local politics, obits, etc.

  3. Interesting stuff here.

    I think that aside from the rootedness of people and the lack thereof in so many places, the quality of information on the one hand and the time-crunch on the other play significant roles as well.

    I, for example, still turn to my old hometown newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich because I “sort-of” still trust them. Our local rag is a bad joke, and I would not spend a dime reading their crappy and extremely biased and lazy journalistic output. Also, we are too far out of town to even receive a daily newspaper.

    One thing I do have to say, that the local rag fills a lot of its pages with local society stuff, like old car parades . . if that’s your cup of tea. I don’t need that because I stopped restoring antique cars many years ago and I have enough of them (and other equipment like a tractor and excavator) around me that I have to take care of.

    The most significant reason to dump daily newsprint, I think, is that the news are as much “so what” as a politician’s speech. So what? Believe it? What to do about it?

    In other words, the alienation and powerlessness of people in their living situations creates a huge sense of distance.

    Occasionally, we get a NY Times or LA Times paper. It graces the bathroom for a few weeks before it goes into the shredder to become bedding for our smallest livestock!

  4. I blame editorial bias and journalistic laziness. A local paper needs to be useful to citizens.

    The major newspaper in Maryland has become nothing more than a newsletter for the political party in power. I won’t even accept a free subscription because I don’t want to inflate their circulation figures!

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