To stay afloat, that revenue loss has to, as Gross points out, be offset by cost-cutting, which has already gutted American newsrooms. There’s not a whole lot left to cut, and what’s already gone has made it much more difficult for papers to make that shift to more of a subscription-based revenue model, which would include charging online. If you keep jacking up the prices for a severely diminished product you give away free elsewhere, people are going to, especially in a bad economy, cut off that several-hundred-dollar-a-year subscription. Does anybody really think they’re coming back now that GDP’s gone positive?

The long-term trendlines are clear. They started before the Web even. There’s only one year with lower circulation numbers than what 2009 will end up being, and that’s the first year in the NAA records: 1940. Believe me, sometime next year we’ll have a new low.

Point being, it’s unlikely that any increase in circulation revenue will offset the loss of advertising revenue caused by fewer readers, much less that industry’s long-term shift away from the print medium. Last year print ads brought $35 billion in revenue. Circulation brought much less. The last year the NAA tracked it was 2004 at $11 billion. At best, the industry has tread water since then and most likely that number has declined. That gap is surely narrowing, but that’s not a good thing as that’s mostly because of declines in advertising, which is now at 1965 levels and dropping fast.


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 rc2538@columbia.edu.