More on Print and Online Reader Revenue

Michael Masnick of TechDirt took issue last week with my post showing the wide disparity between the value of online and print readers of newspapers—calling the exercise “totally meaningless.”

I never said it was the codebreaker, but okay. And I’d like to correct a couple of things.

First, Masnick says “it’s not the users who are paying here, it’s the advertisers.”

That’s not right. Advertisers account for most of newspaper revenue, but subscriptions and newsstand sales in 2008 accounted for nearly a quarter of overall revenue, hardly peanuts. To put it another way, newspapers took in, directly from readers, some $231 per unit of circulation (subscribers plus average newsstand sales) last year. That alone is five times the $46 they took in from online readers—a number that itself is inflated by upsells and the like.

The New York Times now gets more money, by my estimate, from readers than it does from advertisers.

Masnick also says:

Concentrating on the small group of people who will pay me $1,000 and ignoring the massive group who will pay me $5 isn’t very smart…especially when the first group is rapidly shrinking and the latter is growing…

First of all, the online figure isn’t growing at all. Total online ad revenue was down 16 percent* in the second quarter and 13 percent in the first. It’s fallen five of the last six quarters.

Second, I said nothing about “ignoring” readers on the Web. See The Wall Street Journal’s hybrid model, for an example of how to engage a Web audience while also getting money from them and preserving your print circulation.

* I originally transposed these numbers. Thanks to reader Bradley J. Fikes for the catch.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.