Alan Mutter looks at the 2011 numbers out of the Newspaper Association of America, which he notes were “quietly published.”

There’s nothing to trumpet here. Print ads tumbled another 9 percent last year. That’s a sixty-year low, down two-thirds in a bit over a decade in real terms.

Mutter:

The combined ad sales for all the newspapers in the United States last year were equal to only two-thirds of the sales of a single digital competitor, Google, whose annual revenues were $37.9 billion.

The comparison is far worse, of course, if you just consider digital ads. All newspapers combined take in $3.2 billion in digital ads, and that number is inflated by upsells from print.

The only sorta good news here is that digital ad revenue rose 7 percent, and it grew even faster in the fourth quarter, up 11 percent from the year before, as the economy began to finally show some real strength.

But even that growth is far, far lower than the rate papers need, as you can see from overall ad revenue numbers, which dropped 7 percent.

Digital ads have finally returned to pre-recession levels, at least in nominal terms. But they haven’t returned to pre-recession growth rates, which from 2003 to 2007 averaged 27 percent a year.

It would take five years of 27 percent annual growth just to hit $10 billion in digital revenue, and all the easy money, such that it exists in newspaper land these days, has already been grabbed.

Unfortunately, the NAA hasn’t reported industry circulation-revenue numbers since 2009, so we don’t know what effect paywalls have had there and what overall revenue numbers look like, though we can infer from public company results that they’re falling more slowly than overall ads.

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.