Audit Bureau of Circulations: Newspaper-industry slide worsens

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There's good news at the top of the chart for newspapers, as the two largest newspapers saw circulation spike significantly and four of the top five notched gains.

For the industry at large, though, it was another version of the same movie that's long been playing out amid the landscape of local newspapers. Circulation continues to erode. Of the top 50 newspapers as ranked by daily circulation, 26 posted declines. An analysis of the most recent circulation data-which is tabulated by Audit Bureau of Circulations-conducted by the Newspaper Association of America found only 37% of the 836 papers audited posted circulation gains. The average newspaper, according to the NAA, posted a 0.1% daily circulation loss.

bad news on sunday

For Sunday newspapers-the bulked-up formats of which account for a disproportionate share of revenues at major dailies-the NAA found that the news was worse. Average Sunday circulation was off 0.9%.

These figures represent a worse performance than for the previous six-month period, which ended Sept. 30. In those six months, the NAA found the average daily posted a 0.2% circulation increase and a 0.4% decline on Sunday.

The biggest gainer of the top 50, Dow Jones & Co.'s Wall Street Journal, saw a massive 15.4% increase, owing overwhelmingly to the fact it's now allowed to count online subscribers in its tallies. The other big gainer, News Corp.'s The New York Post, rose 9.3%, thank to aggressive pricing strategies, strong sports and business pages, and the sort of jugular-seeking subtlety one expects from properties owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But its tabloid rival, the Daily News, notched a 1.4% increase in its circulation. In doing so it avoided allowing the surging Post to erase its lead in raw numbers despite a string of serious gains. The New York Times showed a slight gain of 0.3% for daily, and 0.2% for Sunday.

The ABC's data also testifies to the industry's reliance on a circulation category called "other paid," which are copies bought in bulk by businesses such as hotels and airlines for at least 25% of basic subscription price.

The biggest major player in "other paid" remains Gannett's USA Today, which derives 47.5% of its weekday circulation from this source. But a host of other top 50 newspapers lean heavily on "other paid" circulation. Among them: Knight Ridder's Miami Herald (20.3%); The Wall Street Journal (16%); Tribune Co.'s South Florida Sun-Sentinel (17.9%) and Los Angeles Times (12.0%); Cox Newspapers' Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12%); and MediaNews Group's flagship Denver Post (13.3%).

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