The real reason behind declining newspaper circulation numbers

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Many years ago, there was a man in Bathsheba who went to market. Among the throng he saw Death, dressed in black and as pale as the moon that grows thin. Death made a gesture, and the man fled, and rode his horse to Samarra. Another man approached Death, whose dress was dark as the sea at night and his face was as pale as a grave on a frosty night.
And the man said to Death, “Why did you make a threatening gesture at that man?”
And Death replied, “I made no threatening gesture — I was surprised. For he and I are to meet tonight many miles away in Samarra.”

We all know that daily newspapers are in trouble, do we not? Readers are abandoning them in droves for niche publications (like this one) and new, Internet-based media, are they not?
Maybe not. Maybe the real answer is even more disheartening than the conventional explanation.
Last week, Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, reported that “In the past four years, the top 20 metros by circulation in this country collectively lost more than 1 million copies daily, a decline of 8 percent.”
That would be serious enough if readers were migrating to other media, but a quick analysis of federally compiled statistics suggests otherwise. It appears that these readers cancelled their subscriptions for the simplest of reasons: they died.
The core audience of daily newspapers consists of adults 50 and older. Between 2003 and 2007, 8.4 million Americans in that age range died.
The 20 top metros circulate in areas with a combined population of 83.5 million, 28 percent of the American population. Interpolating, our 50-plus geezers accounted for 2.35 million deaths in these metro areas during the four-year period. Industry statistics indicate average market penetration of about 60 percent for boomer/geezer community, so as many as 1.4 million of the unfortunate deceased were daily newspaper readers.
The message for daily newspaper marketers is clear: your readers aren’t leaving voluntarily — they love you! If you can just keep ’em alive, they’ll renew their subscriptions. So stop trying to sell papers — invest the money saved thereby in preventive health care for the geezer community. Just imagine the impact on your bottom lines if you can extend average lifespans by even three or four years!
Meanwhile, the interminable Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama celebrity death match continues, to the evident glee of John McCain, who need only rest his aching 71-year-old bones and watch his would-be adversaries duke it out. And even though Obama seems to be fading in the stretch, he probably has enough left to nip Clinton by a nose at the wire.
The Democrats had better hope so — not because he’s more likely to win the general election, but because the mere fact of his nomination will ensure a generation of Democratic political dominance.
The most striking and consistent feature of the Clinton/Obama match-ups has been the generational split. In the 40 and younger demographic, Obama wins every group and subgroup — white men, black men, white women, black women, professionals/working class. For those 55 and older, Clinton is equally dominant.
In a McCain/Clinton match-up, younger voters will see both of them as tired, irrelevant figures from an antique past. Neither party will have any particular claim to their loyalty, but a President McCain is far more likely to bring youthful élan and energy into his administration.
That’s because McCain, unlike the Clintons, doesn’t have a shadow government of people who have served during past administrations, or have been part of the governing superclass for decades. McCain, like Obama, is an outsider, whose relationship with Bush Republicans has been one of mutual dislike, even contempt.
A McCain administration, like the first Roosevelt administration, likely will be full of smart, young, freewheeling, spirited people of all political persuasions. You can bet that McCain will reach out to the left and the center, and drag the GOP back into the mainstream of American politics.
And he’ll welcome the disaffected Obamamaniacs into his rejuvenated party — and maybe even make Obama his vice-president for a second term.
A Clinton administration, by contrast, will feature the dreary rollout of multiple government programs that won’t much improve things (just as the Homeland Security Agency is so much better than the old INS, or Customs Service or whatever we used to have). Bill’s antics, real or imagined, will dismay/disgust Americans of all ages.
Absent Iraq and anti-Bush fervor, it’s hard to believe that younger Americans won’t desert her during 2012 for a remade, newly youthful GOP.
But win or lose, an Obama candidacy, like that of Barry Goldwater 44 years ago, will re-brand the Democratic Party. No longer simply a loose coalition of interest groups, unions, minorities and miscellaneous lefties, the Dems will be the party of the future. Whether they triumph this fall, or four years hence, the path will be clear. Youth will be served!
And the Republicans? They’ll be left sitting at home, reading their daily newspapers … and waiting for their appointment in Samarra.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at or 227-5861.