Audit Bureau of Circulations: Big papers post circ drops

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When the Audit Bureau of Circulations last week reported newspaper circulation for the half-year ending Sept. 30, its figures hit a media and marketing community already made hyper-aware of circulation issues, thanks to a new wave of confessed misdoings and federal probes.

Those with concerns about circulation vitality of the medium will find fodder in the latest figures. Significant drops came at some of the nation's best-known titles, like Tribune Co.'s Los Angeles Times (daily circulation down 5.6%) and Chicago Tribune (daily circulation down 2.3%). Both papers' weak showings had been previously disclosed by Tribune in a conference call with investors. Among the nation's 50 largest newspapers, the L.A. Times posted the largest decline in Sunday circulation as well-6.3%. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal were both essentially flat in daily circulation, up just 0.2% and 0.8% respectively.

The nation's largest daily, USA Today, posted a Monday-Thursday increase of 3.1%. But a closer look at the figures finds that all of that gain, and then some, came from the "other paid" category-copies bought in bulk by businesses like hotels for at least 25% of "basic subscription price. (USA Today's weekend-edition Friday gains of 1.9%, though, came while its "other paid" circulation declined slightly.)

Hearst Newspapers' San Francisco Chronicle also suffered a serious decline, posting a daily loss of 6.3%. The biggest losers among the nation's 100 largest newspapers were the Greensburg (Pa.) Tribune Review and Investor's Business Daily, which respectively posted declines of 9.6% and 8.6%.

While the biggest gainer among the 100 largest newspapers was San Juan's Primera Hora, as always one top-10 daily stood out for its contrapuntal trendlines. News Corp.'s New York Post saw its daily circulation shoot up 5.2%-a slight slowdown from previous gains, but a very strong showing nonetheless.

Like its tabloid brethren in New York-Tribune's Newsday and Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News-the Post last week had circulation data requested by the Securities and Exchange Commission, a development that came as a probe into Newsday's practices widened.

The SEC has also asked several publicly traded newspaper companies for information about circulation practices.

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