American newspaper print ad revenues fell to their lowest level in 14 years last year and online ad revenues fell for the first time in five years, according to figures for 2008 ad revenues from the American Newspaper Association.

The Association released the numbers on its website on the weekend. They show full gory detail of the damage done to the American newspaper business last year, as the impact of firstly the internet, then the credit crunch and recession slashed all forms of advertising in American papers, large and small.

The falls were dramatic: total revenue down $US 7.42 billion, or 16.6% to $US 37.848 billion, the lowest since internet ad revenues was first broken out 2003. Print advertising was down 17.7% at $US 34.740 billion, the lowest since 1994.

Online advertising fell 1.8% as revenues slumped in the final quarter, knocking the 2008 total down to $US3.109 billion from 2007’s peak $US3.166 billion.

That’s the first known annual fall in on line ad revenue and a sign that the previously strong internet model for many papers is as susceptible to the recession as the old analogue print model.

At least four major US newspaper groups are in bankruptcy protection (chapter 11) as a result of the slide in ad revenues, led by the Tribune Co, owners of papers in Chicago, Los Angeles and a host of smaller cities (and 23 TV stations). These companies owe in excess of $US16 billion, with the biggest debt by the Tribune Company.

Seven newspapers have closed or are closing this year and switching to an online presence because of the losses caused by the dramatic slide in revenues in 2008, and the way they have continued into 2009.

Revenue fell 16.6% last year from 2007 at $37.848 billion as the economy tanked, with even online revenue falling, so dramatic was the impact of the slump and credit crunch on spending.

As well the growth of the Craigslist online classified advertising system (and imitators), have carved a widening toll through the ‘rivers of gold’ (to use the famous phrase about the Fairfax classified ads from years gone by).

The terrible damage was chartered quarter by quarter: the first quarter of 2008 saw a 12.85% drop, the March quarter of 2008 experienced a fall of 15.1%, then 18.11% in the third quarter and a sickening near 20% fall (19.74%).

From the peak in 2005 of $US48.435 billion, newspaper ad revenues from all sources have now fallen more than 23%, a crippling loss.

In classifieds, 2008 saw American papers experienced a 37% loss in real estate ad revenues; it was 29% for cars and a huge 42.5% for employment. Real estate and employment classified revenues have fallen more than 60% from 2006.

And there’s no let up. Some US newspaper groups, such as the New York Times Co and the Washington Post Co have reported that the 4th quarter revenue slide of 18%-20% has continued in the current quarter.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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