News by the ton: 75 years of US advertising

There are two ways you can talk about newspapers. You can talk about the ‘fourth estate’, and newspapers’ role in culture, politics, governance, the exchange of ideas and civil society. But you can also talk about newspapers as a specialised light manufacturing industry, that aggregated attention to sell advertising. There’s a common line about Google and Facebook that ‘if you’re not paying, you’re the product’, but this is pretty much what newspapers did: if you read old accounts for, say, the New York Times Company, you can see that they were giving the product away at close to cost and making the money from selling your attention.

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(‘Wages’ in this chart includes both editorial staff and production & delivery staff - the New York Times was delivering 45% of its circulation, and the Boston Globe 70%, and charging a premium for this.)

I picked 1994 because that’s the year Netscape launched and kicked off the consumer internet, and as we all know, that has been somewhat material for newspapers’ print ad business.

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I wrote recently about the way the numbers in this chart didn’t really change until the financial crisis in 2008, almost 15 years after the consumer internet began, but it’s also worth looking at how those numbers have changed over a longer period.

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There are two interesting stories here - the collapse in the last two decades, but also the earlier growth.

First, the collapse. Let’s add the internet to the chart, and let’s show all the rest (Read more...)