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NATIONAL PAPERS RECORD HEALTHY CIRCULATION GAINS;LATEST ABC DATA ALSO SHOW DROPS FOR TITLES IN EAST AS READERS BALK AT HIGHER PRICES

By Published on .

New figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show two national daily newspaper giants posted circulation gains in the latest six-month period, while many urban papers saw circulation tumble.

No. 1-selling daily The Wall Street Journal was up 1.2%, to 1.78 milion, while No. 2 USA Today was up 4.5% to 1.59 million, according to ABC figures for the six months ended Sept. 30.

PROBLEMS OUT EAST

Largely because of consumer resistance to last year's price hikes, the audit bureau reported some of the East's biggest urban papers-The Philadelphia Inquirer, The (Newark, N.J.) Star Ledger, The Miami Herald and The Boston Globe-took a hit.

"The national papers are up nicely while some of the big-city papers are down due to either unique local economic conditions or price increases," said Robert Garrett, managing director of AdMedia Partners, an investment adviser.

Many publishers instituted aggressive price hikes in mid- to late 1995 at the height of the paper-price spiral, and consumers appear to be taking longer than usual to adjust to the jump in newsstand and home delivery prices.

An example is The Boston Globe, which hiked its newsstand price 43% to 50 cents on Oct. 1, 1995. For the six months ended Sept. 30, the Globe's daily circulation fell 5.6% to 471,024 and Sunday circulation was off 3.8% to 763,135.

"In the old days, we'd get the circulation back in six months to a year," said Globe Chairman-Publisher William O. Taylor. "Now we expect it will take a full two years before we get it all back."

WORSE IN PHILLY

It was worse news at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where a 43% price increase contributed to a daily circulation drop of 9% to 427,175-the steepest decline among the top 25.

But with the higher newsstand price of 50 cents begun in November '95, "We'll show significant improvement in our profit margins," said Charles Champion, senior VP-circulation/marketing.

In Manhattan, more than a year after the June '95 shuttering of New York Newsday, the Daily News climbed 0.5% to a 734,277 daily circulation.

The New York Post climbed at a faster clip, by 3.9%, to 429,642, while The New York Times dipped slightly to 1.07 million, down 1% for the daily circulation.

Daily News Publisher Fred Drasner claims rival press baron Rupert Murdoch at the New York Post has reaped gains due to an aggressive price-cutting scheme in Staten Island and Brooklyn.

"He's selling the paper for a quarter out there," said Mr. Drasner.

Mr. Murdoch, who triggered new circulation wars in London more than a year ago, also this spring introduced a Sunday Post edition for only 50 cents that attracted a 291,497 paid circulation.

`NEWS' CIRCULATION DROPS

Faced with a new rival, the Daily News-which hiked the price of its Sunday edition to $1.50-saw its Sunday circulation dip 9.2% to 888,759.

Both papers plan aggressive ad campaigns in the months ahead to capture more readers.

The Post's new Sunday edition marked one of the few bright spots for Sunday newspapers among the top 25.

Only four Sunday papers-the Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, The Orange County (Calif.) Register and The Denver Post-scored gains.

That contrasts with the picture among dailies in the top 25, which were evenly split between gainers and losers.

DENVER'S DRAMATIC GAIN

The Denver Post posted the most dramatic gains in the top 25, up 10.3% in daily circulation to 334,436 and up Sunday 1.2% to 461,837. The paper has been locked in an all-out circulation and marketing war with its longtime foe, the Rocky Mountain News, which has been shedding circulation in outlying areas.

As a result, Rocky Mountain News' circulation in the prime newspaper designated market area as determined by ABC is greater than the Post's by 45,876 daily, but the Post leads by 17,526 in total statewide daily circulation.

DISCOUNTS IN L.A.

Offering discounted newsstand copies of 25 cents in some key regions-50% off the regular daily price-helped the Los Angeles Times break several years of declines as daily circulation jumped 2.2% to 1.02 million. But the Times Mirror Co. flagship still lost readers on Sunday-down 4.3% to 1.35 million.

Phoenix Newspapers continued to see readers flock to its morning paper, the Arizona Republic, where circulation jumped 4.4% to 382,256. But the gain came largely at the expense of its smaller afternoon paper, the Phoenix Gazette, where daily circulation dropped 36% to 44,909.

Overall, the company fell about 2% in total circulation, but the loss was more than offset by the revenue hikes from higher prices instituted last year, said Leon Levitt, circulation director.

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