By Kirk Whisler

Hispanic Link News Service

The year 2008 was one of ups and downs for Hispanic newspapers, magazines and other Latino publications throughout the United States. Despite some rough spots, the $1.4 billion in revenue they generated last year continues to signal a bright future for Hispanic print.

At year’s end, there were 834 Hispanic newspapers, 556 Hispanic magazines and another 526 journals, annuals, yellow-page directories and newsletters keeping this nation’s ever-growing Latino population, now approaching 50 million, informed.

Hispanic newspapers had a combined circulation of 17.8 million, with an impressive 144 of them audited. Hispanic magazines had a combined circulation of 31.6 million, with 34 of those audited.

The image that English-language dailies are representative of all newspapers is false. While many of those mainstream publications may have problems, they are not a reflection of the majority of Hispanic publications The frequent media rap nowadays that “Print is dead” is as invalid in either language as the tired claim that “Hispanics don’t read.”

In Latino Print Network’s annual summary being distributed this week, here are the high points:

Hispanic-owned weekly newspapers and magazines

Measured by three key criteria, these publications continued to grow:

Number of publications (up 20)

Combined circulation (up over 550,000)

Combined ad revenues (up 4%).

Impressive growth statistics could be found within major publication groups such as El Especial in New York and Miami (up 16%), and El Aviso (14%) and El Clasificado (18%) in Los Angeles. Each topped a quarter of a million circulation and added new neighborhoods to those they serve.

Fama magazine, out of Miami, saw its circulation leap 39% to 188,283. To support this growth it increased ad revenues.

Many other publications shined through the nation’s down economy.

New Markets Served

Almost every month Hispanic publications start up in new markets.

Today Hispanic newspapers serve all but four of the country’s 50 states and almost 200 markets nationwide. This provides far better coverage than any other media serving the Hispanic community. On a weekly basis, at least 57% of Latino households are using one or more Latino publications.

Ad Category Growth

Health services, legal ads, vocational school and governmental ads are some of the types of advertising that are growing. Local ads as a whole are increasing in most markets; hyper-local ads are growing even faster for community publications.

Areas of Concern

Spanish Language Dailies: Spanish language dailies reached a high point in the USA in 2005 with 42 dailies with a combined 1.6 million circulation. By the end of 2008 those numbers had declined to 29 dailies with a combined 1.1 million circulation. Those numbers decreased even more in 2009. While major markets like Los Angeles, New York and Miami will undoubtedly have a Spanish language daily for many decades to come, some that were started in the past decade were in markets probably too small to support one.

Employment: Employment at Hispanic publications grew every year just like clock work for decades. Last year all of that ended in a big way with a decline from 17,354 employees in 2007 to 12,122 employed at the end of last year. Over 2,300 positions were lost at Hispanic dailies alone.

Yellow Pages: Another area that saw a major downturn was Spanish-language yellow pages, with the number dropping from 149 in 2007 to 102 in 2008. The biggest problem here was with two groups of yellow pages that were either leveraged too much or had owners who were no longer supportive. Aside from that, the field of locally owned yellow pages seems to be very healthy and they should continue to grow for years to come.

The Future

How will mainstream-owned Hispanic weeklies evolve? For those owned by non-Hispanic media groups, the verdict is still out. Many like Mundo Hispánico in Atlanta, El Tiempo Latino in Washington, D.C. and La Voz de Houston were started and reached maturity as Hispanic-owned publications. When their original owners sold out to local mainstream-owned dailies, they’ve continued to evolve using the best of their founders’ ideals with the strengths that a major daily can provide.

Other publications have been started by mainstream newspapers with a wide variety of formulas that range from well-thought-out to ones that seem to have no formula at all. Often these publications have no spokesperson at the corporate level so when budgets are being cut, these publications shut down, even if they are profitable.

Hispanic Print on the Internet Today 443 Hispanic newspapers and 311 Hispanic magazines have web sites, the majority of which are updated at least weekly. Millions of people turn to these sites for news and entertainment. Circulation audits can now include online readers.

Merging Publication/Internet Operations While few Hispanic publications have effectively tied their online and print efforts together, it will be a major test for them over the next few years.

All figures in this article are for the United States and its commonwealth Puerto Rico. They also include 12 newspapers along the U.S.-Mexico border that have circulation on both sides of the border.

(Kirk Whisler is founding president of Latino Print Network, based in Carlsbad, Calif. Email: Kirk@Whisler,com)