NEWSPAPER CIRCULATION DOWN 2.6%

But 'New York Times' and 'USA Today' Post Slight Gains

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The semi-annual report on paid newspaper circulation met every gloomy expectation this morning, starting with a 2.6% top-line decline in paying weekday readers among 786 papers across the country.
Photo: Hoag Levins
While 'The New York Times' and 'USA Today' posted gains, the Newspaper Association of America said, overall, the industry lost another 1.2 million readers.
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1.2 million readers
That 2.6% drop-off, from the six months ended Sept. 30 in 2004 to the comparable period this year, represents a loss of nearly 1.2 million readers, according to an analysis of the report by the Newspaper Association of America.

Bright spots included the performance of two of the country’s biggest and most important newspapers, The New York Times and USA Today, which both posted gains under 1%. The Times reported an average increase of 5,133 paying weekday readers for a total of 1,126,190.

Gannett’s USA Today fared comparably well, reporting 1,882 more paying readers of its Monday-through-Thursday editions for a total weekday circulation of 2,222,745 (the highest weekday circulation of any paper).

More losers than winners
But declines dominated the report, which was compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Dow Jones’s Wall Street Journal, the second-largest paper, said average paid weekday circulation fell 1.1% to nearly 2.1 million. The Journal’s Weekend Edition, which began publishing on Sept. 17, showed up in this morning's report with an average circulation of 2,085,852. Dow Jones has said it hopes the addition of the weekend paper will broaden its appeal and boost circulation.

Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle fared worst among the majors, falling an average of 15.7% for its Monday and Tuesday editions and 17% Wednesday through Saturday.

The New York Times Co.’s Boston Globe also fell precipitously, losing 37,246 weekday readers on average, an 8.2% tumble to a total weekday average of 414,225.

Knight Ridder declines
And Knight Ridder’s Philadelphia Inquirer and Miami Herald both suffered. The Inquirer showed average weekday circulation of 357,679, down 3.3% from 369,332 during the comparable period a year ago. The Herald reported average weekday circulation of 291,198, down 4.3% from 304,336 during the period last year.

Knight Ridder and the industry at large were roiled last week when the company’s three largest shareholders publicly pressed its board to sell it, citing “limited growth across the newspaper industry,” “continuing consolidation among the traditional sources of print advertising revenue” and “the redirection of advertising dollars to other media.”

The tabloid war in New York City has not cooled off, but readership has. Mort Zuckerman’s New York Daily News still holds the lead with paid weekday circulation of 688,584, but fell 3.7% from 715,052 in last year’s report. News Corp.’s New York Post said paid weekday circulation fell 1.7% to 662,681 from 674,389. Both may be feeling the bite of two commuter-friendly free dailies, amNewYork and Metro New York.

Stressing new buzzword
The Newspaper Association of America, not surprisingly, emphasized total readership in its analysis of the latest discouraging report on paid circulation. It said, for example, that the total combined audience of the top 50 papers was nearly three times as high as those papers’ paid circulation. The industry has also embarked on an effort to prove reader engagement -- advertising’s latest favorite buzzword -- with daily newspapers.

Both will be important as newspapers try to raise ad rates even as paid circulation stagnates at best and, in general, continues its long-term slide.

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