Published on .

More promotional dollars are spent in newspaper advertising than almost any other medium. In 2000, $49 billion was spent on newspaper advertising in the U.S. compared with $12.4 billion on magazines. Of the major media, only TV exceeded the ad volume of newspaper advertising.

More than 56 million newspapers are sold each day in the U.S., according to the Newspaper Association of America. With an average 2.33 readers per copy, that means 112 million adults, or 58%, read a newspaper daily and 63.7% read a newspaper every Sunday.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations, which audits the majority of large-market newspapers, provides a methodology for determining the circulation of newspapers, and its periodic reports verify circulation counts for each audited newspaper. The Audit Bureau also provides demographic data to assist advertisers in understanding the audience being tapped by ad placements in a particular paper.

Newspapers are classified according to size and format, frequency of issue, content and market audience. Normally, newspapers are printed in either broadsheet, or standard size (approximately 22 by 13 inches), or tabloid size (approximately 10 by 13 inches). Most newspapers use the standard-size page, which is usually divided into six columns.

A daily newspaper is defined as one that comes out four or more times per week; a newspaper that comes out less often each week is considered a weekly.

The content of newspapers can be quite varied. Those that contain little or no "hard" news are called "shoppers." Some concentrate on local community news, others mix general and local news.

Major metropolitan papers concentrate on hard news while their suburban rivals favor "soft" news, such as the engagements, marriages and birthdays of their readers. Some papers tailor their content to specialized markets, such as The Wall Street Journal, which concentrates on the business and finance markets.

While readers of most newspapers live and work in the immediate geographic area served by that paper, other demographic variables also may affect the audience of a newspaper. A paper may, for example, serve the student body of a university, or it may be printed in a foreign language to address a particular community.

Advertising advantages

Specific advantages that newspapers have as an ad medium include geographic selectivity, editorial support, secondary readership and flexibility. For many businesses, a newspaper's geographic coverage offers a way to reach a well-defined market without waste circulation.

Editorial support can take many forms. In reading a newspaper article, a person usually sees several ads to which they may be directed as a result of their interests. An ad for a fishing lure placed in the sports section, for example, takes advantage of the special interest of those reading that particular section. At times, editorial support also comes simply by having an ad in a particular paper. Financial ads, for example, have more clout with some readers because they appear in The Wall Street Journal or Barron's.

Secondary or pass-along readers also enhance a newspaper's ad value. One newspaper in a household of four people can result in four readers. Newspapers that are available in public places such as libraries, restaurants and medical offices also promote multiple readership.

Newspapers generally require much shorter lead times for ads than do magazines. Such flexibility makes newspaper advertising popular with retailers and other marketers that need to react quickly to changing market conditions.

But newspapers by their nature also present some disadvantages to potential advertisers, including lack of permanence, limited demographic orientation and occasional quality issues.


A unique cost feature of newspapers is the dual rate structure that often finds national advertisers paying more for the same ad than a local advertiser pays. The local or retail rate typically does not include a commission structure and so is relatively inexpensive, while the national or general rate usually does include a commission and may cost up to double that of the local rate. (Some newspapers offer national advertisers a rate that reduces the national rate if additional column inches, the standard measure of newspaper ads, are purchased.)

Special costs also may be incurred if an advertiser chooses to use free-standing inserts, which are printed separately and then inserted into the newspaper. Particularly popular in Sunday editions, FSIs stand out because they are printed with strong colors on higher-quality paper than the newspaper uses. The main drawback to FSIs, however, is clutter, as their popularity means that Sunday newspapers usually contain many FSIs, each competing for the reader's attention.

Buying newspaper advertising

A marketer can use the newspaper in several ways. One option is to use classified advertising, or want ads; another is display advertising. Most newspapers use Standard Advertising Units to provide uniform ad size. The SAU system, established in 1984, provides more than 50 standardized ad sizes for the standard newspaper page.

A third option is Sunday magazines, such as Parade and USA Weekend, and yet another is the comics section. Alternatively, advertisers may choose special sections or issues—such as back-to-school or graduation—to reach their target markets.

Another alternative for marketers is the "advertorial"—an ad presented in a news format—that is analogous to TV's infomercials. Many newspapers accept this format, and most label it as advertising. Often, however, the small print indicating that it is an advertisement is not readily detected by the reader.

At the low end of the cost continuum, newspapers offer a run-of-paper rate. The ROP rate allows a newspaper to place a marketer's ad anywhere in the newspaper, whether the location is good or bad.

On a standard newspaper page, an ad placed above the fold is usually preferred, as is an ad at either the front or back of a section. In addition, any ad placed next to editorial copy is generally preferred over an ad located next to another ad, and the more editorial copy around the ad, the better.

In some cases, preferred positions can be obtained by paying a premium; in others, an advertiser only need request such positioning, and no premium is required.

Most Popular
In this article: