Newspapers' Paid Circulation Losses Shrink

Industry Finally Reverses Trend Toward Bigger and Bigger Declines

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Newspapers' circulation losses have stopped growing, but the industry still has a ways to go before it finds a new equilibrium.

Credit: AP
Newspapers' average daily paid circulation over the six months ending in March declined just 8.7% from the equivalent six-month period a year earlier, the Audit Bureau of Circulations said today as it issued its biannual circulation report, factoring in just the 602 papers reporting comparable figures for both periods and excluding papers that, for example, shut down in the interim.

That's an improvement over the prior report, which showed a 10.6% daily drop for the six months ending in September 2009, the culmination of growing losses in the periods before: a 7.1% decline for the period ending March 2009, a 4.6% slide for the period ending September 2008 and a 3.6% slip for the period ending March 2008.

Newspapers' Sunday paid circulation fell 6.5% in the new report, compared with a 7.5% drop for the period ending last September and declines of 5.4% for the period ending March 2009, 4.9% for the period ending September 2008 and 4.6% for the period ending March 2008.

The new figures come amid a new period of foment in the newspaper business. In New York, for one, The Wall Street Journal today introduced a local edition with a standalone Greater New York Section -- a bid to grab readers and advertisers from The New York Times. The Washington Post is facing a new challenge in the form of a site called TBD.com from the founders of Politico, which will deploy 20 reporters to cover Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas. And of course a small but growing number of papers are charging for unfettered access to their websites, an effort to wring circulation revenue from digital media and shore up print circulation.

Other measures
Despite the moderation in paid circulation losses, the newspaper industry trade group quickly sought to shift the emphasis to other measures, such as the audience of people who read a newspaper in print, whether they paid for it or not, or newspapers' growing audience online.

"Recent data from Scarborough Research provides a broader -- and more complete -- perspective: Nearly 100 million adults continue to read a print newspaper every day and 168 million adults read a newspaper in print or online in the past week," said John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, in a statement following the Audit Bureau's report. "In addition, the latest Nielsen Online data found that newspaper websites attracted a record 74.4 million unique visitors per month on average in the first quarter of 2010 -- more than one third, 37%, of all internet users."

Of course newspapers continue to derive the vast majority of their profitable revenue from advertising in their print editions, which is priced and negotiated based on paid circulation levels. And newspapers long boasted that its paying customers showed more commitment than, say, radio listeners who don't pay, much less subscribe.

Newspapers have, on the other hand, gotten smarter about managing their paid circulations -- sometimes abandoning areas outside their core markets, for example, where advertisers were less interested in appearing and distribution costs were greater. Some have increased newsstand and subscription prices, too, in an effort to improve circulation economics. Those factors combine to depress paid circulations.

Losses at the biggest papers
Among the top 25 weekday papers, The Wall Street Journal eked out a 0.5% increase in the latest period, while USA Today, the second largest, saw daily circulation plunge 13.6% and The New York Times, the third largest, reported an 8.5% decline. None of the top 25 showed an increase but The Journal.

Among the top 25 Sunday papers, The Times experienced a 5.2% decline in the latest period, the Los Angeles Times reported a 7.6% drop and The Washington Post saw a 8.2% fall. Only the St. Petersburg Times reported an increase, notching a 0.9% gain.

Average Daily Circulation at the Top 25 U.S. Daily Newspapers
Preliminary Figures as Filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations
(Subject to Audit)
Total Paid Circulation
State Newspaper Name Frequency As of 3/31/10 As of 3/31/09 % Change
NY WALL STREET JOURNAL AVG M (M-F) 2,092,523 2,082,189 0.50%
DC USA TODAY AVG M (M-F) 1,826,622 2,113,725 -13.58%
NY NEW YORK TIMES AVG M (M-F) 951,063 1,039,032 -8.47%
CA LOS ANGELES TIMES AVG M (M-F) 616,606 723,181 -14.74%
DC WASHINGTON POST AVG M (M-F) 578,482 665,383 -13.06%
NY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AVG M (M-F) 535,059 602,859 -11.25%
NY NEW YORK POST AVG M (M-F) 525,004 558,140 -5.94%
CA SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (a) AVG M (M-F) (1/1/10 to 3/31/10) 516,701 N/A N/A
IL CHICAGO TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 452,145 501,202 -9.79%
TX HOUSTON CHRONICLE AVG M (M-F) 366,578 425,138 -13.77%
PA PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (a) AVG M (M-F) 356,189 N/A N/A
AZ ARIZONA REPUBLIC AVG M (M-F) 351,207 389,701 -9.88%
NY NEWSDAY AVG M (M-F) 334,809 368,195 -9.07%
CO DENVER POST (a) AVG M (M-F) 333,675 N/A N/A
MN STAR TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 295,438 320,119 -7.71%
FL ST. PETERSBURG TIMES AVG M (M-F) 278,888 283,093 -1.49%
IL CHICAGO SUN-TIMES AVG M (M-F) 268,803 312,141 -13.88%
OH CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER AVG M (M-F) 267,888 291,630 -8.14%
OR OREGONIAN AVG M (M-F) 263,600 268,512 -1.83%
WA SEATTLE TIMES (a) AVG M (M-F) 263,468 N/A N/A
TX DALLAS MORNING NEWS AVG M (M-F) 260,659 331,907 -21.47%
MI DETROIT FREE PRESS (e) AVG M (M-F) 252,017 290,723 -13.31%
CA SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 249,630 261,253 -4.45%
CA SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE AVG M (M-F) 241,330 312,118 -22.68%
NJ NEWARK STAR-LEDGER AVG M (M-F) 236,017 287,082 -17.79%
Blue indicates audited figures
(a) Denotes change in publishing plan; year-over-year data not comparable
(e) Five-day average reflects a reduced home-delivery schedule
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
Average Daily Circulation at the Top 25 U.S. Sunday Newspapers
Preliminary Figures as Filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations
(Subject to Audit)
Total Paid Circulation
State Newspaper Name Frequency As of 3/31/10 As of 3/31/09 % Change
NY NEW YORK TIMES SUN 1,376,230 1,451,234 -5.17%
CA LOS ANGELES TIMES SUN 941,914 1,019,386 -7.60%
DC WASHINGTON POST SUN 797,679 868,965 -8.20%
IL CHICAGO TRIBUNE SUN 794,350 858,256 -7.45%
NY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS SUN 600,118 644,767 -6.92%
CA SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS (a) SUN (1/01/10 to 03/31/10) 549,024 N/A N/A
TX HOUSTON CHRONICLE (T) SUN 526,440 583,364 -9.76%
PA PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER SUN 517,807 550,401 -5.92%
MI DETROIT FREE PRESS (T) SUN 511,742 582,418 -12.13%
AZ ARIZONA REPUBLIC SUN 510,500 516,562 -1.17%
MN MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE SUN 493,027 497,679 -0.93%
CO DENVER POST (a) SUN 486,976 N/A N/A
FL ST. PETERSBURG TIMES SUN 417,807 413,929 0.94%
MO ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH SUN 400,042 415,814 -3.79%
GA ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION SUN 397,926 462,457 -13.95%
NY NEWSDAY SUN 394,909 426,510 -7.41%
MA BOSTON GLOBE SUN 378,949 466,661 -18.80%
TX DALLAS MORNING NEWS (T) SUN 373,031 474,923 -21.45%
NJ NEWARK STAR-LEDGER SUN 359,865 404,903 -11.12%
WA SEATTLE TIMES SUN 356,944 376,515 -5.20%
MD BALTIMORE SUN SUN 344,118 351,243 -2.03%
NY NEW YORK POST SUN 333,958 357,168 -6.50%
WI MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL SUN 328,247 361,355 -9.16%
OR OREGONIAN SUN 315,515 325,815 -3.16%
MO KANSAS CITY STAR SUN 314,449 333,006 -5.57%
Blue indicates audited figures
(T) Includes other audited circulation
(a) Denotes change in publishing plan; year-over-year data not comparable
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
Top 10 Circulation Gainers -- Newspapers with More Than 50,000 Paid Circulation
Preliminary Figures as Filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations
(Subject to Audit)
Total Paid Circulation
State Newspaper Name Frequency As of 3/31/10 As of 3/31/09 % Change
FL NAPLES DAILY NEWS AVG M (M-F) 77,565 63,702 21.76%
NY SCHENECTADY GAZETTE AVG M (M-F) 55,318 45,490 21.60%
MI MOUNT CLEMENS MACOMB DAILY AVG M (M-F) 54,240 47,820 13.43%
NY WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY AVG M (M-F) 55,707 50,805 9.65%
PA YORK DAILY RECORD AVG M (M-F) 55,901 52,330 6.82%
OH TOLEDO BLADE AVG M (M-F) 117,704 110,728 6.30%
IL BELLEVILLE NEWS- DEMOCRAT AVG M (M-F) 53,053 49,985 6.14%
PA ALLENTOWN MORNING CALL AVG M (M-F) 103,845 99,114 4.77%
TN CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS AVG M (M-F) 76,526 73,066 4.74%
CA SAN BERNARDINO SUN AVG M (M-F) 51,954 49,949 4.01%
Blue indicates audited figures
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
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