Survey: U.S. publishers optimistic about future of newspapers

A survey by Missouri School of Journalism’s Reynolds Journalism Institute finds that most publishers of U.S. dailies remain optimistic about the future of newspapers: 40% are “somewhat optimistic,” 25% are “very optimistic,” 4% are “not optimistic,” and 31% are neutral.

Do you ever envision a time when your organization will not publish a printed edition?
No – 62%
Yes – 33%
Maybe – 5%

Publishers who envision a day when their companies will no longer print say…
It will happen in 10-20 years – 46%
It will happen in less than 10 years – 19%
It won’t happen for at least 20 years – 14%

Has your company considered eliminating a day of publication?
No – 77%
Yes – 17%
Already have – 5%

Publishers from smaller papers are most optimistic

Circulation size was a key factor associated with the degree of optimism expressed by publishers. Although publishers from every circulation size were included in both the “very optimistic” and “somewhat optimistic” groups, 83% of those in the “very optimistic” category lead papers with average weekday circulations below 50,000.

Read the press release after the jump.


Columbia, MO — Despite declining readership and an economy that has battered revenues and forced painful cuts, the publishers of U.S. dailies remain optimistic about the future of newspapers.

In the largest survey of its kind, nearly two-thirds of responding publishers expressed optimism about the future of the newspaper industry. Forty percent said they were “somewhat optimistic,” while 25 percent identified themselves as “very optimistic.” Thirty-one percent were neutral. Only four percent identified themselves as “not optimistic;” no respondent chose “not optimistic at all.”

The question was asked as part of the RJI Publishers Confidence Index, the first in an annual series of surveys benchmarking opinions of newspaper leaders about the future of the industry and their organizations’ ability to adapt to fast-changing market conditions. The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism is devoted to exploring new ideas, experiments and research that will improve and sustain journalism.

In the survey, 458 in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with publishers, presidents, senior vice presidents or other senior managers or editors designated by the publisher. The interviews, conducted by the RJI Insight and Survey Center, represent one-third of the daily newspapers in the United States. In assembling the sample, researchers were careful to ensure it reflected the distribution of circulation sizes across the industry.

Circulation size was a key factor associated with the degree of optimism expressed by publishers. Although publishers from every circulation size were included in both the “very optimistic” and “somewhat optimistic” groups, 83 percent of those in the “very optimistic” category lead papers with average weekday circulations below 50,000.

Although the survey revealed increased effort being poured into development of new digital products at newspapers, many publishers arecounting on the print edition to continue to play a significant role in future success.

Responding to the question, “Do you ever envision a time when your organization will not publish a printed edition,” 62 percent replied “no.” One-third of the respondents replied “yes,” and 5 percent said “maybe.” Circulation size also was associated with answers to this question, with publishers of smaller papers less likely to envision a time without a printed edition.

Of those publishers who envision a day when their companies will no longer print, 19 percent expect that to happen in less than 10 years; 46 percent estimated it would happen in 10-20 years; 14 percent expect it will not happen for at least 20 years.

When asked whether the leadership of their companies has considered eliminating a day of publication, as Advance Publications is doing with its New Orleans newspaper and others, 77 percent said “no.” Seventeen percent said “yes,” and 5 percent replied they already have. Advance announced in May its plans to reduce the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s printing frequency from 7 to 3 days a week, while interviewing for the survey was under way.

Interviews were conducted from May through July. The response rate of the survey was 77.6%. For results based on the entire sample, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.

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