(Facta: February 2016 – pp. 32-33)
According to figures released by the Nihon Shinbun Kyokai (Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association) in late 2015, as of October 2015, the total number of daily newspapers published was 44,246,688 copies, down by 1.1 million copies from the previous year. This represents a decline for 11 years in a row and figures also decreased for all regions nationwide.
According to the Japan Audit Bureau of Circulations (JABC), the number of copies of newspapers sold as of November 2015 was 38,888,021, down by 750,000 copies from the same month of the previous year.
What is notable in the JABC figures is that Asahi Shimbun accounted for 400,000 copies, or over 50% of the overall plunge in circulation. The decline was particularly significant in the area covered by Asahi’s head office in Tokyo.
The Shinbun Kyokai’s publication figure peaked at 53.76 million copies in 1997. In 2014, the number of published copies went down by 1.63 million copies from the previous year, marking the biggest drop on record. While the margin of decline was slightly smaller in 2015, there was still a drop of more than 1 million copies. At this rate, the number of published newspapers will have diminished by 10 million copies in 19 years by this fall.
Although the sales figures for 2015 released by the JABC showed a smaller drop from the figure in November 2014 – which was minus 1.61 million copies – there is no indication of any halt in the downward spiral.
The JABC sales figure for Asahi in November 2015 was 6.63 million copies, down by 400,000 copies from the same month of the previous year, which was a slight improvement from the 480,000 copies drop recorded in 2014. Yet, it is clear that the defection of readers has not stopped.
Asahi’s circulation peaked in 1997 at 8.42 million copies, after which the downward trend has continued unabated.
An analysis of the drop in Asahi’s circulation as of November 2015 shows that the 270,000 copies drop in the area managed by the Tokyo head office made up two-thirds of total decrease, driving many of its sales outlets in Tokyo’s 23 wards into bankruptcy.
The JABC figure for Yomiuri Shimbun in November 2015 was 9.36 million copies, up by 20,000 copies from the same month of the previous year, showing it has been able to survive. But this figure was a far cry from the 10 million copies recorded in November 2013.
Mainichi’s circulation was 3.2 million copies, down by 70,000 copies; Sankei recorded sales of 1.56 million copies, down by 30,000 copies; while the figure for Nikkei was flat at 2.72 million copies.
In the regions, the Dec. 11, 2015 issue of the newspaper industry’s paper Shimbun Tenbo reported the penetration rate in each prefecture (JABC circulation figures divided by the number of households) in the first half of 2015. Regional or prefectural newspapers ranked first in 37 prefectures, including Miyagi, Nagano, and Fukuoka. Yomiuri ranked first in Tokyo, while Nara is the only prefecture where Mainichi ranked first.
It appears that local newspapers are still thriving in the regions, except in the major urban centers. However, compared to the first half of 2005, or 10 years ago, the penetration rate has dropped in all prefectures.
In 2005, there were 21 local papers with penetration rates above 50%, while there were only 12 in 2015. It appears that the overall decline of newspapers is now affecting even local newspapers, whose circulation had been relatively stable.
Asahi, the biggest loser, announced a number of stringent restructuring measures on Jan. 6, including a ceiling to wages and bonuses, extension of retirement age, voluntary early retirement, and so forth. Yet, these are seen as far from breaking away from the disintegrating “paper” business model or being fundamentally effective for the company’s survival. (Abridged)