The 11 Most Interesting Facts From the New Mega-Survey of American Media


Here is the survey, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And here's what I found interesting: The hand-off between print and online publishing hasn't followed as smooth a trajectory as you might think. Software publishing jobs (e.g. developers, computer programmers) have grown by 174 percent since 1990 -- but by less than 1 percent since 2001. Newspaper, book, and directory publishing jobs have declined 36 percent since 1990 -- but there was practically no decline in this category until 2001.

(2) The typical reporter made $35,000 in 2011. The typical editor made $52,000.


(3) Boom times for ... photographers? "Over the 2010-2020 period, the number of photographers is projected to increase by 17,500, the largest increase among media-related occupations."

(4) Union membership is in decline across every media category, from movies to publishing and telecommunications. Even though less than one in ten information workers belongs to a union, they are still 50 percent more likely to be union members than the typical private sector worker.

(5) The BLS's measure of labor productivity (that is, output per hours worked) has come under considerable scrutiny by some economists, but this stat is a good reminder of the divergence of technological reform within the media industry. Productivity in the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing sector has grown 11 percent since 1990. Wireless telecom productivity has increased by 966 percent in that time.

(6) Is TV cheap? Depends on what you mean by TV. The consumer price index for television sets has fallen 91 percent since 1998. The CPI for cable and satellite television subscriptions has increased by 61 percent over the same time. In human speak: You can pay much less for better TVs today, while paying more to access live programming on that flat-screen.

(7) The real price of books basically hasn't changed since the late 1990s. The real price of newspapers and magazines, as a category, is up 40 percent in that time. 

(8) Total spending-per-person on newspapers and magazines has fallen 47 percent since 1999. Total spending-per-person on Internet has increased by 550 percent over the same time.


(9) The typical person who watches TV sits in front of the tube for three and a half hours every day -- the time equivalent of watching all of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, each day, forever.

(10) 15 out of 16 Americans said they don't answer personal email on a typical day away from work. 6 out of 7 Americans said they don't use a computer for leisure outside of work hours. [I was skeptical of these numbers and called an economist from the BLS Time Use Survey. The explanation was that people might have under-reported computer use outside of work, because they weren't counting breaks from actual salaried work that lasted less than 15 minutes.]

(11) Thirty- and fortysomethings spend the most on entertainment. Sixtysomethings spend the most on books, magazines, and newspapers.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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