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Online ads are expected to eclipse newspaper advertising for the first time, according to estimates from market researcher eMarketer.

U.S. spending on online ads will hit $25.8 billion in 2010, compared with $22.8 billion spent on print ads in newspapers, the Wall Street Journal reported. This change has been a long time coming, since consumers have moved to the internet in large numbers and newspaper readers have stopped subscriptions as the papers get thinner and thinner.

It reminds me of 2008, when I left the newspaper business after nearly 20 years to join VentureBeat. Back then, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the fate of newspapers. Times were heady for tech blogs and other online news sites. Then the recession hit and made everyone in the media gloomy.

Ad spending in the U.S. is expected to rise 3 percent to $168.5 billion, eMarketer said. But spending on print ads in newspapers will decline 8.2 percent in 2010 and the forecast is for another decline of 6 percent for newspapers in 2011. At least newspapers seem to have stabilized from the huge drops they saw from 2006 to 2009, as you can see from the chart.

“It’s something we’ve seen coming for a long time, but this is a tipping point,” says Geoff Ramsey, the chief executive of eMarketer, in an interview with the Journal.

Online ads don’t command the same kind of rates that newspapers do. But they make it up in volume, as there are so many more online publications. Forrester Research also reports that consumers spend as much time online as they do watching TV. The extra time spent online is coming at the expense of reading newspapers, browsing magazines and listening to the radio.

[photo credit: Gawker]

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