According to an analysis by NAA of new audit-bureau figures, overall circulation for both daily and Sunday newspapers was essentially flat, down just 0.7%. for the six months ended Sept. 30 compared to the same period the year before. The audit-bureau report measures 842 dailies and 631 Sunday papers.
In April, the NAA board approved a major program called the Readership Initiative, to reverse stagnant readership and circulation. But it's still in development, so too early to have an impact on circulation.
"The most encouraging face on this is that circulation for the majority of the largest papers on a daily basis increased," said NAA President-CEO John Sturm. "What we will see over the next three to five years, as efforts from the Readership Initiative start to take effect, is an increasing emphasis on readership rather than circulation. That's clearly the way other media are measured by advertisers."
Part of the NAA's effort to compare newspaper readership to other media usage by consumers involves its own study. In spring 1998, the NAA launched the Competitive Media Index, a specially tailored analysis of Scarborough Research's top 50 market data on media usage; the first index measured data from October 1996 to September 1997. The study measures newspaper readership in the top 50 markets rather than the actual number of newspaper copies sold, which is what the audit bureau measures.
According to the NAA's fall 1999 Competitive Media Index -- measuring the period from February 1998 to March 1999 -- 56.9% of adults in the top 50 markets read a daily newspaper, while 66.9% read a Sunday paper. The daily readership was up from 57.9% from the Spring 1999 CMI, which measured the period from August 1997 to September 1998.
Sunday readership, however, declined from the 67.8% recorded in the earlier report.
LOOKING GOOD VS. TV
Compared to the average half-hour of prime-time broadcast TV, which according to the fall 1999 CMI had just 38.5% of adults tuning in -- newspapers look pretty good. The TV figure was down from the Spring 1999 CMI measure of 39.6%. CMI's data, however, lag the audit bureau's data by six months, so it doesn't reflect the same period of time.
The Fall 1999 CMI also found that online users were not newspaper averse. Of all Internet users in the top 50 markets, 61% said they read a daily newspaper and 74% said they read a Sunday paper.
Still, the NAA can't escape the fact that 10 of the top 25 largest papers were down in Sunday circulation, and eight registered declines in daily circulation. Papers which lost both daily and Sunday circulation include The Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Globe, The San Diego Union Tribune, and The Detroit Free Press. The Philadelphia Inquirer took the biggest hit, off 7.4% in daily circulation to 399,339, and down 7.4% on Sunday to 820,104.
SOME BRIGHT SPOTS
Some bright spots were to be found in the audit-bureau figures. Six of the largest circulation newspapers (with more than 500,000 circulation) gained in daily circulation: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, and The Dallas Morning News. All also increased their Sunday circulations. (USA Today, which publishes its weekend edition on Fridays, had a 1.1% gain to 2,106,229 million for that edition.)
RUMBLE IN THE ROCKIES
In Denver, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News battled for dominance, but one captured the most daily circulation while the other won the Sunday crowd. The Denver Post had a circulation of 520,049 for Sunday, up 6.8% from the previous year. That was higher than the Sunday circulation for The Rocky Mountain News, which was 504,487, up 14.2%.
During the week however, The Rocky Mountain News had a circulation of 396,114, up 16.2%. That bested The Denver Post's daily circulation, which was 376,549, up 9.5%.
In New York, the Daily News once again won the tabloid circulation fight, both daily and Sunday. The Daily News had an average weekday circulation of 701,831, down 3%. Sunday circulation was 790,911, down 2.5%. The New York Post, however, was at just 438,158 for weekday circulation, up slightly by 0.2%. Sunday circulation was down as well, sinking 5.9% to 360,945.