Dallas Morning News Suffers 14% Decline

But Execs Claim Slip Was Expected; Paper Latest to Scrap 'Other Paid Circ'

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Amid the dreadful circulation numbers released by newspapers last week, The Dallas Morning News' numbers stood out as particularly shocking.

Dallas Morning News Publisher Jim Moroney

See chart to compare circ gains and losses among the U.S.'s 25 biggest newspapers.

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Industrywide, total weekday paid circulation fell 2.1% during the six months ending March 31, a mere fraction of the 14.3% decline The Morning News suffered. (Sundays fared only marginally better, down 13.3%.) But while that decrease appears calamitous, executives at the Belo Corp.-owned daily say the severe losses were planned all along.

They attribute about half of the decline to a decision to reduce the paper's circulation area to a 100-mile perimeter around the Dallas-Fort Worth area -- eliminating circulation in far-flung markets such as Little Rock, Ark., and Tulsa, Okla. -- as well as efforts to curb distribution through third-party vendors, which is frequently discounted and tends to be valued less by advertisers.

"Our continuing strategy is to concentrate on acquiring and retaining quality circulation and readership that provide advertisers with the strongest possible return on investment rather than increasing circulation with subscribers having marginal value who are expensive to attract and retain," Publisher Jim Moroney said in a statement.

Trimming back 'other'
The Morning News is the latest in a long series of papers to cut down on "other paid circulation," which is sold through third-party distributors or through hotels and schools. Advertisers generally value it less than traditional subscription or newsstand sales, and it tends to hamper publisher efforts to improve audience composition and reduce subscriber churn rates.

Other big papers that have slashed "other paid circulation" include the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the San Jose Mercury News.

Even excepting the junk-circulation cuts, The Morning News would have posted a decline of more than 7%, which still would have been the steepest drop of any top-25 newspaper. (The San Diego Union-Tribune, down about 6.6%, saw the next-largest decline.)

In his statement, Mr. Moroney noted the paper's total readership is flat with 2001 levels or, if niche-product and website readers are included, 10% ahead. But The Morning News, like other papers, hasn't figured out how to make those readers worth as much to advertisers as the paying print readers who continue to disappear.

"We are pleased with the efforts we have made to date in increasing the quality of our audience and will continue to announce initiatives aimed at acquiring and retaining subscribers who provide maximum value for our advertisers," Mr. Moroney said.
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