Newspapers get disappointing circulation news

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As the newspaper industry bands together for a bold plan to try to stem circulation declines, new figures have come out that drive home the problem.

Daily newspaper circulation fell 0.5%, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for September through March, while Sunday circulation was down 1%.

"Our concerns over stagnant circulation and readership figures were the impetus behind the industrywide readership initiative, designed to build our share of audience and advertising," said John Sturm, president-CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

The plan includes hiring marketing consultant Sergio Zyman, who will advise on a repositioning campaign and making alliances with other newspaper industry groups to fund research.

DECLINES AMONG TOP 25

Although 50% of newspapers with circulations of more than 500,000 showed gains in this latest six-month reporting period, 13 of the top 25 circulation newspapers posted declines.

That is especially disappointing since during the same period a year earlier, when the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal was still unfolding, 19 of the top 25 newspapers reported gains.

The No. 1-ranked daily, The Wall Street Journal, was down 1.5%, to 1,792,452.

But there were gains. USA Today was up 1.4% to 1,739,294 in daily circulation and 1.2% to 2,133,467 in weekend circulation, the largest Sunday circulation of any paper.

The New York Times, extremely active in the past year as it expanded its national distribution into 14 new markets, was up 2.2% to 1,134,974 daily circulation, and up 2.3% on Sunday, to 1,687,959.

SLIGHT GAIN FOR `L.A. TIMES'

The Los Angeles Times also posted a slight gain (0.3%) in daily circulation, to 1,098,347, but remained flat on Sunday. Its gains were mainly in one local area, Ventura County, as well as in sales of the national edition.

At The Denver Post, in one of the most fiercely competitive markets, daily circulation was up 4.6% to 370,423, while Sunday climbed 6.6% to 523,324. The increase is attributed in part to somewhat controversial pricing promotions that let some subscribers pay as little as a penny a day.

The Rocky Mountain News was up 10.4% to 359,068, while Sunday was up 6% to 461,103.

Also, the Minneapolis Star Tribune posted gains of 2.4% for daily circulation, to 370,532, while Sunday was up 1.1% to 674,066. The newspaper is halfway through a three-year initiative to increase circulation using pricing promotions to gain new subscribers and retention efforts for existing subscribers.

"We've been working to get people to start reading the paper, and then bolstered that with efforts at retention to keep them once we have them," said Paul W. Reese, senior VP-operations and circulation.

EVEN KEEL AT `STAR LEDGER'

The (Newark, N.J.) Star Ledger maintained its circulation, with a slight increase (0.1%) daily to 405,546. Sunday circulation was flat at 605,308.

Long Island's Newsday posted gains of 0.4% for both daily and Sunday circulation reaching 573,542 and 660,104, respectively.

New York's Daily News was up slightly (0.3%) in daily circulation to 729,449, but Sunday sales were off 1.9% to 835,429. The smaller New York Post also was up slightly (0.2%) in daily circulation to 433,774, but its relatively new Sunday paper, introduced in 1996, was off 4.7% to 351,970.

Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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