(Update: It occurred to me this afternoon, while going over some of the data from the NADBank study with my students, that there’s a serious weakness in the polling, which results in an under-reporting of daily newspaper readership in some Canadian cities. None of their figures, as far as I can determine, include ethnic media. At least here in Vancouver, daily Chinese-language newspaper sales are fairly brisk at several newsstands that I’m aware of.)

There is little doubt the newspaper industry in Canada is in better overall shape than in the U.S. Yes, we’ve lost some newspapers, but only a handful. Yes, we’ve had layoffs but, after the initial round of major newspaper cuts, the numbers are not nearly as severe as they are in the states or some European countries.

The same forces are at play — long-term downward drift in circulation, increased competition, an ad spending implosion, etc. But Canada’s recession was not as ugly as the one that swept across the states. And while Canwest, the largest publisher of English-language titles, struggles as mightily with debt as any of the U.S. chains, it hasn’t been (yet) forced into bankruptcy protection.

So it’s not surprising that the release of latest readership information from NADBank, the industry tracker, generated headlines such as this one from the Vancouver Sun: Canadian newspapers ‘alive and kicking,’ survey finds. (NADBank has adopted readership, as defined through telephone and mail-in surveys, over circulation as a measurement for Canadian newspapers.) From that article:

Figures released Wednesday by NADbank suggest a robust industry, with this study’s numbers holding steady to the 77 per cent readership reported for 2008 despite the ravages of the recession, which has hammered advertising revenues — newspapers’ chief source of funds.

Good on ya, newspaper industry.

If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, there are some interesting aspects to this, though. The full report isn’t available on line, but there is a nifty, downloadable PowerPoint presentation full of graphs and charts. (You can access to PowerPoint through the link at the bottom of this page, which contains some of the charts.)

What I found of note:

• The number of “weekly readers” — which includes print and online — has held steady over the past five years. That’s great, but given that the population of Canada will have increased over the past five years, does this mean newspapers are losing more ground?

• Readership totals are a combination of those who reported reading a newspaper yesterday and those who have read a newspaper in the past five or six days. In most of the 10 markets that are graphed, the number of people who read a newspaper yesterday was below 50 per cent. The exceptions are Vancouver (51 per cent) and Winnpeg (55 per cent).

• Saturday and Sunday readership figures for the Vancouver area are brutal: less than 30 per cent for the Saturday Vancouver Sun and just over 20 per cent for the Sunday Vancouver Province. The Vancouver Sun has the lowest percentage of Saturday readers among the major cities surveyed.

• 30 per cent of the readers of paid dailies are between the ages of 18 and 34. For free dailies, the figure is 41 per cent and for online, it’s 40 per cent.

• The cumulative readership of dailies shows remarkable consistency across all age groups, but the readership is more heavily weighted to professionals, who have university education and household income over $100,000.

Just as interesting is a chart of readership by content. Local, world and provincial or national news all rate highly (usually read by 60 per cent or more of those surveyed). Way down at the bottom of the list are two advertising-heavy sections of the Homes/Real Estate (rarely or never read by 48 per cent of those surveyed) and automotive (rarely/never read by 59 per cent). And comics are rarely/never read by 53 per cent of those surveyed.

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