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How to Read Newspapers' New Circulation Numbers

Industry's Circulation Decline Slows, but Dive Below the Top Line to Really Understand

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Newspapers' circulation losses have slowed further, to a 5% daily drop in the most recent report from an 8.7% decline in the spring report and a 10.6% plunge in the report one year ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported a 1.82% increase in average paid circulation on weekdays over the six months ending in September, compared to the period a year earlier.
The Wall Street Journal reported a 1.82% increase in average paid circulation on weekdays over the six months ending in September, compared to the period a year earlier.
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Newspapers' crucial paid circulation on Sundays fell 4.5% over the six months ending in September, compared with the equivalent period a year earlier, the Audit Bureau of Circulations said today as it issued its biannual circulation report. That's an improvement, too, over the 6.5% decline in the spring report and the 7.5% drop before that.

The big national papers reported divergent results. The largest, The Wall Street Journal has been tacking toward a greater emphasis on general news with innovations such as the Greater New York section it introduced last spring. It reported a 1.82% increase on weekdays over the six months ending in September, compared to the period a year earlier, to reach 2.06 million. USA Today, the second largest on weekdays, saw average paid circulation slip 3.7% to 1.83 million. The New York Times, the third largest, declined 5.5% on weekdays to 876,638.

Looking a little below the top line, however, can be critical to understanding what's going on with these newspapers.

Whatever you make of the distinction between print circulation and digital circulation, electronic editions -- meaning WSJ.com-only subs, iPad and mobile subscriptions and e-reader circulation -- are playing a big role in The Journal's numbers. Those reached an average of 449,139, up 10.4% from the period a year earlier. Without those electronic editions, the paper's paid print circulation on weekdays was essentially unchanged from last fall.

USA Today noted Monday morning that it is the largest paper in the country in paid print circulation.

But over at USA Today, you also have to decide what to make of the distinction between circulation paid for by individuals and circulation distributed free to airline passengers, say, or hotel guests. USA Today's individually paid circulation declined 9.3% to 692,901.

Echoing explanations you'd hear from many papers around the country, The Times said its circulation decline partly reflected a strategy of reducing its least profitable circulation while emphasizing the most loyal readers.

The industry is working to focus on expanding its audience and building revenue across platforms including print, said John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, in a statement Monday morning. "What counts is that newspaper companies continue to retain their most loyal and engaged readers even as they increase print circulation pricing to rebalance their revenue streams," he said. "Many publishers have enhanced coverage to advertisers with popular print products that supplement traditional newspaper distribution. Targeted products -- such as Briefing in Dallas, RedEye in Chicago, Your Essential Shopper in Phoenix and scores of local publications -- provide additional readership that is not currently reported by ABC."

Update: The Audit Bureau of Circulations points out that it does indeed audit and report audience metrics for the publications cited in Mr. Sturm's quote.

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 9/30/10 As of 9/30/09 % Change
NY WALL STREET JOURNAL AVG M (M-F) 2,061,142 2,024,269 1.82%
DC USA TODAY AVG M (M-F) 1,830,594 1,900,116 -3.66%
NY NEW YORK TIMES AVG M (M-F) 876,638 927,851 -5.52%
CA LOS ANGELES TIMES AVG M (M-F) 600,449 657,467 -8.67%
DC WASHINGTON POST AVG M (M-F) 545,345 582,844 -6.43%
NY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AVG M (M-F) 512,520 544,167 -5.82%
NY NEW YORK POST AVG M (M-F) 501,501 508,042 -1.29%
CA SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS AVG M (M-F) 477,592 N/A N/A
IL CHICAGO TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 441,508 465,892 -5.23%
TX HOUSTON CHRONICLE AVG M (M-F) 343,952 384,437 -10.53%
PA PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER AVG M (M-F) 342,361 361,481 -5.29%
NY NEWSDAY AVG M (M-F) 314,848 357,124 -11.84%
CO DENVER POST AVG M (M-F) 309,863 340,949 -9.12%
AZ ARIZONA REPUBLIC AVG M (M-F) 308,973 316,873 -2.49%
MN MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 297,478 304,544 -2.32%
TX DALLAS MORNING NEWS AVG M (M-F) 264,459 263,810 0.25%
OH CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER AVG M (M-F) 252,608 271,182 -6.85%
WA SEATTLE TIMES AVG M (M-F) 251,697 263,588 -4.51%
IL CHICAGO SUN-TIMES AVG M (M-F) 250,747 275,641 -9.03%
MI DETROIT FREE PRESS (e) AVG M (M-F) 245,326 269,729 -9.05%
FL ST. PETERSBURG TIMES AVG M (M-F) 239,684 240,146 -0.19%
OR OREGONIAN AVG AD (M-F) 239,071 249,164 -4.05%
CA SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE AVG M (M-F) 224,761 242,693 -7.39%
CA SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE AVG M (M-F) 223,549 251,782 -11.21%
NJ NEWARK STAR-LEDGER AVG M (M-F) 223,037 246,006 -9.34%
(e) Individually paid core newspaper 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 9/30/10 As of 9/30/09 % Change
NY NEW YORK TIMES SUN 1,352,358 1,400,302 -3.42%
CA LOS ANGELES TIMES SUN 901,119 983,702 -8.40%
IL CHICAGO TRIBUNE SUN 768,073 803,220 -4.38%
DC WASHINGTON POST SUN 764,666 822,207 -7.00%
NY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS SUN 568,266 603,671 -5.86%
CA SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS SUN 528,536 N/A N/A
TX HOUSTON CHRONICLE (T) SUN 515,236 547,409 -5.88%
MN MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE SUN 504,616 477,564 5.66%
MI DETROIT FREE PRESS (T) (e) SUN 494,013 560,188 -11.81%
PA PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER SUN 477,586 499,138 -4.32%
CO DENVER POST SUN 472,664 495,485 -4.61%
AZ ARIZONA REPUBLIC SUN 457,059 458,992 -0.42%
GA ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION SUN 384,110 405,551 -5.29%
FL ST. PETERSBURG TIMES SUN 377,235 370,049 1.94%
NY NEWSDAY SUN 375,874 413,830 -9.17%
TX DALLAS MORNING NEWS (T) SUN 373,815 390,523 -4.28%
MA BOSTON GLOBE SUN 368,303 418,527 -12.00%
MO ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH SUN 365,589 401,425 -8.93%
OH CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER (T) SUN 348,324 390,637 -10.83%
NJ NEWARK STAR-LEDGER SUN 346,436 371,061 -6.64%
WA SEATTLE TIMES SUN 341,265 359,672 -5.12%
NY NEW YORK POST SUN 339,115 343,361 -1.24%
WI MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL SUN 331,171 334,241 -0.92%
MD BALTIMORE SUN SUN 324,018 322,492 0.47%
OR OREGONIAN SUN 292,800 303,414 -3.50%
(T) Includes other audited circulation
(e) Individually paid core newspaper five-day average reflects a reduced home-delivery schedule
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations

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