Audit Bureau of Circulations: Newspapers see gains in circulation post-9/11

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Although America's post-Sept. 11 heightened appetite for news continued to stem circulation slides at many key newspapers, the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report showed fewer circulation gains than one may expect.

And the gains in the six-month period ending March 31 did not always show up where one would expect. Of the 50 largest American newspapers, the largest increase crown was claimed by the New York Post-the gossipy and garishly only-in-New-York tabloid not particularly known for, say, its Middle East coverage.

"If it was simply the factor of Sept. 11, then every newspaper in New York would be showing a 15% gain," said Post Publisher Ken Chandler. The Post has aggressively undercut other New York dailies on price-it's a quarter while the Daily News is 50 cents-but that strategy's been in place since late 2000.

The next biggest gainer was The New York Times, which continues to reap benefits from rolling out a more nationally focused strategy.

Other national players didn't do as well. USA Today, still the only daily with circulation above 2 million, showed a circulation drop of 3.5%. A USA Today spokesman said that the decline in travel continued to hurt the paper's circulation.

This ABC report supercedes one mistakenly sent out with incorrect information for third party, or "bulk" sales. The agency counted bulk sales twice for an unspecified number of dailies, though it said fewer than 100 were affected. The corrected report emblazons the phrase "revised as of May 3, 2002" on its front cover.

23 UP, 23 DOWN

Of the top 50 papers, 23 papers lost circulation while 23 gained (four were flat or no change was noted). Only two dailies in the top 10 posted drops, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, which has pared circulation under new owner Tribune Co.

All of this data coincides with one ongoing study of post Sept.-11 reading habits.

"It's not that people who haven't read newspaper are reading them," said Rebecca McPheters, president, McPheters & Co., which does research and consulting for media companies. Rather, she said, existing readers "are spending more time with the paper." Respondents to a survey her company conducted with Beta Research called "Changing American Lives," reported spending 51% more time with newspapers in October 2001, and are still spending 33% more time with them in April. Additionally, Ms. McPheters said, the average number of papers respondents read rose, from 1.5 to 1.7-which, she said, was likelier to benefit national and the larger regional newspapers owing to their strengths in foreign news.

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