This Is the Scariest Statistic About the Newspaper Business Today

In 2012, newspapers lost $16 in print ads for every $1 earned in digital ads.
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Here it is: In 2012, newspapers lost $16 in print ads for every $1 earned in digital ads. And it's getting worse, according to a new report by Pew. In 2011, the ratio was just 10-to-1.

The digital ad revolution, always "just around the corner", remains tantalizingly out of reach for most newspapers, which explains why some stalwarts like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have moved to subscription models for their websites to bolster digital ad growth. Just today, the Washington Post announced a paywall.

Here's the ten year picture of print vs. digital ads for newspapers:

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Since 2003, print ads have fallen from $45 billion to $19 billion. Online ads have only grown from $1.2 to $3.3 billion. Stop and think about that gap. The total ten-year increase in digital advertising isn't even enough to overcome the average single-year decline in print ads since 2003. Ugh.

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Who killed newspapers? The classic response is the classifieds, and it's true that websites offering direct information about housing, rentals, cars, and other goods and services that once found a unique home in newspapers have gutted the old revenue model. "More than three-quarters of print classified revenue has been lost since 2000," Pew reports.

But as you can see, the majority of print's ad decline since 2003 has come from retail ads (the most common slice of most newspapers' revenue pie) and national ads. Here's the breakdown of that $25 billion lost over ten years. It's about $11 billion each from classifieds and retail ads, with the remainder coming from national ad spots.

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As revenue falls, reporting is falling with it. Newsroom employment fell below 40,000 full-time workers for the first time since 1978 -- and 30 percent below its peak in 2000.

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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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