Sixty-four percent of the top 25 were down compared with the same period last year. For those dailies in the top 25 that publish Sunday editions it was even worse-68% showed circulation declines.
Among the top 10 dailies, only USA Today (up 0.9%) and the Dallas Morning News (up 0.4%) showed increases, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six-month period ended March 31. Bright spots on the top 25 list, however, included the New York Post (up 7.1%) and the Arizona Republic and San Diego Union-Tribune (both up 2.6%).
According to John Morton, media analyst with Lynch Jones & Ryan, Washington, the downturn isn't unexpected. The declines represent "a continuation of some aggressive price increases [by newspapers] in anticipation of and response to higher newsprint prices."
"Declines are probably going to be a characteristic of the newspaper industry for at least another year and perhaps longer," he said. "When that cycle has gotten behind us, we expect a return to a more traditional pattern of newspaper circulation growth."
Two of the biggest plunges came in the competitive New York market, with Newsday down 7%, the New York Daily News down 5% and The New York Times reporting a more modest 1.4% decline. The Post, which doesn't publish a Sunday edition, came in ahead of the competition in part due to an aggressive pricing and promotion strategy, according to Mr. Morton.
He ascribed the market-leading Los Angeles Times' decline to a combination of price increases, outmigration from the paper's southern California market and a policy of trimming distant circulation, which is marginal to national marketers.
On the Sunday side, the largest losses were recorded by Newsday (down 6.9%), the Detroit Free Press (down 4.9%), the Chicago Sun-Times (down 4.6%) and the San Francisco Chronicle (down 4.1%).
Both the Houston and Milwaukee markets lost papers in the last reporting period, when the Houston Post was shuttered and the afternoon Milwaukee Sentinel merged with its morning rival.
Mr. Morton said the surviving papers in the two markets-the Chronicle in Houston and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-can expect to capture about 50% of the circulation of each competitor.
Joe Mandese coordinates MediaWorks.