Daily News CEO Marc Kramer
|See chart to compare circ gains and losses among the U.S.'s 25 biggest newspapers.|
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Far from leading the industry to the Promised Land, however, the tabs' tactics turn up questions about proper barometers for success, particularly in a business where growth has become all but a holy grail.
The top line, at least, is clear: News Corp.'s Post reported average paid weekday circulation of 724,748 for the six months ending March 31, topping the 718,174 reported by the News.
Both papers, however, have busily increased their use of "paid" copies that aren't bought by individual readers -- such as advertiser-sponsored free copies or copies bought for educational use. Individual paid copies at the Post fell to 91% of its paid total in the latest reporting period, from 95% in 2005. At the News, individual paid circulation fell all the way to 80% from nearly 94% in 2005.
"Third-party bulk sales form less than 10% of our sale," said Col Allan, the Post's editor in chief. "If you look at the Daily News, it's 20%. They're now the third-largest free newspaper in America, after Metro and AM New York!"
"What they're really doing," Mr. Allan added, "is covering up the evaporation of their paid circulation." Individual paid circulation at the News fell, it's true, to a weekday average of 574,405 for the six months ending March 31, from 615,890 in the year-ago period. It rose at the Post to 657,277 from 644,030.
But hold on, said the News. "It's a dangerous assumption that bulk for one product is the same as bulk for another, because it assumes that the product and the audience taking that bulk are the same," said Rhonda Novick, senior VP-circulation at the News. "We actually believe that all of the audience that we get our bulk to, or most of it, has a real interest."
And if we're going to talk about audience instead of paid copies, the News remains the champ. According to the recent 2007 Scarborough Research report on newspapers, the news has a weekly print audience of 4.5 million to the Post's 3.3 million.
Daily News CEO Marc Kramer sees even more proof in the printed page itself. "We have dramatically more advertising than they do," he said. The News collected $530 million in ad revenue last year, compared with $275 million for the Post, according to TNS Media Intelligence. "Here's the problem for the Post -- they've decided they're going to spend a shitload of money to get paid circulation, but the circulation is there to get advertising, and they're not getting it."
And so the New York tabloid war rages on.