Newspaper circulation rises in South America, falls in the U.S., says the Economist

By Ian Tennant

The average circulation for paid-for daily newspapers climbed by five percent in South America and fell by 11 percent in North America from 2005 to 2009, says the Economist magazine in a recent report that also connected the shifts in circulation to the rates of acceptance of social media.

The penetration of social media in countries like the United States, parts of Europe, Japan and Australia were higher than in countries like Brazil and India where social media like Twitter and Facebook have yet to have the same impact. For example, the average circulation for paid-for U.S. newspapers between 2005 and 2009 dropped by 13.3 percent while Facebook was used by approximately 50 per cent of the population and Twitter by roughly 10 percent. In Brazil, the Economist reports, paid-for daily newspaper circulation rose by 20.7 percent but Facebook reaches approximately eight percent of the public and Twitter five percent.

Relying on data from the World Association of Newspapers, the Economist shows circulation results are mixed for certain regions and countries in Latin America. While paid-for daily newspaper circulation in Mexico and Brazil climbed by more than 15 percent, the data showed circulation had declined by 15 percent or not changed at all in Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.

The Economist also reports that advertising revenue for U.S. paid-for newspapers is still in decline, a slide that started with the advent of television news, cable television and then exacerbated by the popularity of the Internet, media that pulled readers away from U.S. newspapers which are heavily dependent on advertising dollars.

However, the Economist's findings regarding exceptional newspaper circulation growth in India have been questioned by one media analyst. Writing for FirstPost.Business, Anant Rangaswami said the Economist misses the reality on the ground in India in that advertising revenues are not what they seem because heavy negotiations force newspapers to charge less than what their rate cards suggest, and cover prices are so cheap that newspaper barely cover delivery expenses.

"The low yields from subscriptions . . . makes the business close to unviable except for those with very deep pockets — or those who can afford to take a hit and believe that it is worthwhile to take a hit," says Rangaswami.

In an editorial that appeared on July 7, the Economist also argued that the Internet has returned journalism to its conversational coffee house origins of 300 years ago.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.