For the beleaguered newspaper industry, the good news may be that the bad news isn't getting worse.
Newspaper revenue fell just 2 percent last year compared with 2011, according to new data compiled by the Newspaper Association of America, the industry's main trade group.
Although that's hardly cause for celebration, the slight decline is a man-bites-dog story for an industry that has been devoured in recent years by online competition and has been hemorrhaging readers and advertisers. During the preceding six years industry revenue plunged 42 percent, according to NAA figures.
In fact, print advertising revenue continued to shrink, falling 9 percent last year. The more hopeful sign is that some of those losses are starting to be made up by other sources, the group said. Circulation revenue, for example, grew 5 percent, driven by price increases for print subscriptions and by digital subscriptions. It was the first time circulation revenue has grown since 2003.
About 450 of America's 1,390 daily newspapers now have "pay walls" around their online content, drawing revenue from readers for news the publications had previously given away. Many newspapers are hoping that digital subscriptions will become a significant revenue source, replacing lost ads.
Newspapers also appear to be making progress in developing new businesses outside of gathering and distributing the news. These businesses -- e-commerce, event sponsorship and dispensing advice to local merchants on digital ad strategies, among others -- grew 8 percent last year. They account for about $3 billion of the industry's $38.6 billion in revenue, the trade group reported.
Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, which helped the NAA produce its data, said it is difficult to project a growth rate for the industry's new revenue sources. Digital advertising has grown slowly, and it still accounts for only about 10 percent of newspaper sales.