‘Readers continue to shower The New York Times with money. Advertisers, not so much.” So began The New York Times’ third quarter update Wednesday. It’s a familiar refrain for today’s newspapers, especially smaller community newspapers which have neither the Times’ scale or technological prowess of advertising juggernauts Google and Facebook. This is even as publishers gain subscribers via improved digital products.
Although far from the Times’ gains — the paper said it added 273,000 new online subscribers in the third quarter, for a total of 4 million digital readers, to reach a combined print and digital audience of 4.9 million — The Paris News is also experiencing an increase in audience, with monthly average sales between September and October rising nearly 3.9%, or about 200 copies. Of that growth, just more than 6% came from digital.
If that seems surprisingly low, consider the Texas State Comptroller recently reported that Lamar County ranks among the least internet-connected counties in the state, even lagging behind neighboring Delta, Fannin and Red River counties. According to the comptroller’s 2016 data, the latest available, just 36.5% of Lamar County residents had high-speed internet (compared to 84.6% of Delta County residents, 69.7% of Fannin County residents and 53.7% of Red River County residents). Paris News reporter Tommy Culkin reported on the issue in June with his story “Connection Problems: Internet access scarce for residents in unincorporated parts of Lamar County.”
“Roughly 80% of residents in the unincorporated areas of Lamar County lack access to home internet service, WiFires owner Mossie Kines said. ‘Basically, everything not in one of the main path cities — so places like Tigertown, Pattonville and Sumner — isn’t served,’ Kines said. ‘A lot of the internet providers here don’t think there’s enough density in those areas to warrant running lines there.’ Internet is much more readily available in the county’s incorporated cities, though even there Kines said just 65.4% of residents have home internet.”
Despite that, 2019 has been a very good year digitally for The Paris News’ website, which has experienced a 56% increase in the number of monthly pageviews and a 135% increase in the number of monthly visitors since January. Sure, our numbers pale in comparison to a national daily like The New York Times, but this small publication is happy to welcome each of its 216,900 monthly visitors to its website.
Just like the Times, however, virtually all newspapers are struggling to maintain advertising revenue as Google and Facebook take an ever-increasing share of the pie. Last week, the Commerce Journal just down the road from here printed its last edition. Publisher Lisa Chappell said the newspaper will merge with the Herald-Banner, which will print a section devoted to Commerce content every Thursday.
With that, Commerce joins more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years. Some say media bias is driving the downfall, but there’s several reasons that’s not so. First, newspapers are demonstrably less biased than ever before in history as a result of their business model being built upon advertising. Second, the argument suggests fewer people are reading, but that’s confusing circulation with readership. In reality, more people than ever before are reading newspapers — they’re just mostly doing it online. Why else would Facebook cut a multimillion-dollar, multiyear licensing agreement with the Times for its content? (And there’s Apple’s news platform, Google’s news app, and so on.)
Third, the basis of the argument is American politics, which wouldn’t explain similar trends outside the U.S. For instance, England’s The Guardian on Sept. 29 reported this: “From 2005 to the end of 2018, there was a net loss of 245 local news titles. An estimated 58% of the country is now served by no regional newspaper.”
Anyway, the reason I wanted to share this is my hope that the next time you visit a business that has advertised in The Paris News, Paris Life or on our website, you’ll thank them for their continued support of a local job-providing business and your newspaper. They help us build a strong newspaper, which helps to build a strong community with you, our readers, print and digital.