For newspapers, is the worst over?

A really provocative piece in today’s Washington Post (in the Style section of all places): For newspapers, a 2 percent decline is good news – The Washington Post.

From that piece:

Newspaper revenue fell just 2 percent last year compared with 2011, according to new data compiled by the Newspaper Association of America, the industry’s main trade group.

[…] During the preceding six years, industry revenue plunged 42 percent, according to NAA figures.

In fact, print advertising revenue continued to shrink, falling 9 percent last year. The more hopeful sign is that some of those losses are starting to be made up by other sources, the group said. Circulation revenue, for example, grew 5 percent, driven by price increases for print subscriptions and by digital subscriptions. It was the first time circulation revenue has grown since 2003.

About 450 of America’s 1,390 daily newspapers now have “paywalls” around their online content, drawing revenue from readers for news the publications had previously given away.

A 42 percent decline in revenue over six years? Things were even worse than I thought.

Click here for the full report from the Newspaper Association of America.

Despite the widespread belief that consumers will not pay for online news, an increasing number of newspapers — including the Savannah Morning News for which I write columns three days a week — have instituted some sort of paywall or metered system for their digital content. That avenue and various other efforts, including extreme cost-cutting, seem to have solidified many newspapers’ books.

Is this just treading water? Or are we actually getting somewhere?

The real tests will come with the next economic downturn and over the next decade or so as traditional newspaper readers leave the population (i.e., die) in large numbers. The piece speculates that the increased use of tablets might make traditional newspaper formats (both print and digital) more palatable to younger readers, but we’ll see.