One of the big headlines about newspapers in 2012 announced that the industry had lost half of its print ad revenue. Businesses and other advertisers who had spent $40 billion on ads in 2006 were paying just $20 billion for full-page spreads, inserts, display ads and classifieds. Newspaper advertising is still a viable medium for small businesses to get out the word about sales, discounts and new products, but before small business owners invest in newsprint advertising, they should be aware of its limitations and disadvantages.


Newspaper demographics may be a drawback for some small businesses anticipating broad-based exposure through their ad. Readership has been dropping steadily, and ads for businesses that cater to younger consumers are reaching a fraction of that target audience. According to the Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism Project, in a 2011 survey only 31 percent of respondents ages 25 to 34 said they read a daily newspaper. Older people had remained more loyal to newspapers, but even readers ages 54 to 65 had dwindled to 49 percent.


Newspaper ads appear on large, busy pages of type and can easily be overlooked by readers. Newspapers sell retail ads that appear throughout the paper interspersed with news reports and photos. Retails ads are typically stacked in a cluster at the bottom of each page where they compete with one another, and with the news content, for the reader’s attention. Businesses can also buy classified ads that run in the classified section, which is devoted exclusively to a mix of different styles of advertising. While the classified section draws readers who are looking for products or services, unless ads are large and bold they can be lost in a sea of small grey type.

Reproduction Qaulity

Print ads rely on visual elements to capture a reader’s attention. According to Scott Young of Perception Research Services, a New Jersey based consulting firm that specializes in marketing communication, readers are engaged and guided by an ad’s dominant image. The limited reproduction quality of newsprint is a disadvantage for ads that use detailed photos or illustrations. Small businesses that rely on smaller and more affordable display ads that are one-quarter or one-eighth of a page and have limited color may have problems with photos and images that fail to accurately represent products.

Limited Exposure

Daily newspapers have a brief shelf life. A small business can invest a significant amount of its advertising budget in a one-shot ad that has 24 hours to reach an audience. Weekly newspapers hang around on kitchen counters a little longer before they are tossed into recycling bins, but circulation tends to be much smaller. Although some businesses try to offset the short life span of a newspaper ad by requesting a plum spot in the A-section, newspapers typically sell "run-of-the-paper" ads, which means an ad can be placed wherever production crews find space. Newspapers may try to give an ad a prominent spot, but there are often no guarantees. Some papers sell prime placements for ads, but they charge higher rates.