Figures make it easy as ABC

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The just-released Audit Bureau of Circulations Report for newspapers is a feast for statistics geeks.

It's the first that breaks out detailed information on sales at differing price levels-paid at 50% or above what a newspaper establishes as its "basic" price, paid at least 25% but less than 50% of single copy price, and "other paid." "Other paid," at least 25% of "basic" price, is also known as "bulk" circulation distributed in public places and to hotel guests.

That final category of circulation had previously not been counted as part of the "total paid" figure. This puts USA Today far over the top as the nation's biggest daily, with 2.1 million daily circulation and 2.6 million for its Friday weekend edition.

But those numbers come with hefty help from the "other paid" column. Its daily edition derives 46% of its total circulation from it; its Friday edition derives 39%. That percentage dwarfs the rest of what's regarded as the daily newspaper industry, although the trade daily Hollywood Reporter notched 45.2% of its circulation from such sources for its equivalent of daily circulation. (Its competitor Variety did not report figures by ABC's deadline.)

Asked how the new ABC format would influence buying decisions, Melissa Pordy senior VP-director of print at Zenith Media, New York, jointly owned by Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe said, "Will it change if I buy newspapers? No. It will change how I negotiate and the things I look to get back."

Other dailies reporting bulk circulation exceeding 10% of non-Sunday totals were few and far-flung, ranging from the 100,000 circulation New Haven Register to 69,000-circulation Oakland Tribune to the 19,500-circulation Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) Reporter.

Among USA Today's national competitors, only the Wall Street Journal reported sizable bulk circulation, with 15.4% of its combined daily circulation coming from such sources.

The New York Times counted only about 7% of its weekday circulation from "other paid," which a key Times circulation executive used to draw a line in the sand between his paper and USA Today.

"What the rule changes mean to us is that a lot of our competition is in a different category. They have substantial circulation bases," said Scott Heegan-Canedy, senior VP-circulation at the Times, "but they either don't or can't necessarily command significant prices from their customer base."

"If you don't have the most" circulation, said Larry Lindquist, senior VP of circulation at USA Today, in response to Mr. Heegan-Canedy's comments, "you've got to come up with something."

As for the bulk sales issue, Mr. Lindquist insisted "we have no sales below 50%" of USA Today's basic price.

In any event, print buyers don't sound particularly perturbed about USA Today circulation.

"Do we prefer things to be paid for, and people making that choice? Yes. Does that mean there's any less value [if it isn't?] Absolutely not," Ms. Pordy said.

While saying USA Today circulation "doesn't concern me any more than it once did," Eric Blankfein, VP-director of planning at Horizon Media, New York, said such bulk sales represented "a secondary, tertiary readership." But he added its ad rates were "fairly competitive."

USA Today's Mr. Lindquist said that hotel-related circulation was "not back to 100%" of pre-Sept. 11 levels, as some hotel chains cut back on orders in response to a scarcity of business travelers. But he said that spikes in single-copy sales meant that USA Today circulation was up 2% for September and would remain up in October as well.

At the Times, Mr. Heegan-Canedy said that single-copy sales-which make up about 40% of its circulation-were up between 10% and 15% in October over last year, and that September's gains were even greater.

Elsewhere in the industry, the New York Post showed the most dramatic increase of top papers, boosting its weekday numbers 22.2%.

And the Los Angeles Times, as predicted by local observers last spring (AA, April 30, P. S-1) saw its weekday circulation fall below 1 million, as new owner Tribune Co. revamped expensive circulation-boosting strategies of Mark Willes, chairman-CEO of former owner Times Mirror Co.

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