WSJ vs USA Today: Who has the biggest paper?

October 11, 2009

USA Today and The Wall Street Journal aren’t waiting for Oct. 26, the day North American newspapers report their latest circulation numbers, to begin tussling over which one has the biggest paper.

Editor & Publisher made the first move on Friday when Jennifer Saba reported that USA Today was set to report that circulation fell “17% to 1.88 million for the six months ending September 2009, a drop of about 390,000 copies. The decline could also threaten USA Today’s position as the No. 1 newspaper in the country by circulation.” The news came in a memo from USA Today Publisher, David Hunke, to his workers.

Spicy stuff, considering that when we write about its owner, Gannett, we say it is the largest U.S. newspaper publisher that publishes USA Today, the largest newspaper by circulation.

The Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide wrote up the news too, adding this: “After USA Today’s memo, the Journal said it is now the largest U.S. newspaper by weekday circulation.” Andrew Vanacore at The Associated Press, featured the Jornal echoing that statement: “Dow Jones, the Journal’s parent company, declined to give out the newspaper’s circulation figures for the period, but spokesman Robert Christie said, ‘The Journal is now the largest newspaper by circulation.’”

We wrote up the story too, going along the same lines. The next day, however, we got this statement from USA Today’s communications vp Ed Cassidy – a bit too late to run it as an update to our old story. Still, it piqued my interest in a big way because it doesn’t go along with the lines of what we reported earlier:

We are confident that even with this latest economic impact, USA TODAY will remain the nation’s number one newpsaper in total print circulation when the ABC statements are released October 26th.

So how do we figure this? It’s hard to conclude when the numbers haven’t come out yet. I suspect that both papers can make the claim to be No. 1 because the Journal is counting copies to subscribers who get only the online edition as adding to the total number of print subscribers. Newspaper publishers argue over whether those copies “count,” but it seems like they should considering that people pay for Web access in the same way that they do for print.

Or am I wrong? Should circulation — a key measure for businesses of whether and how much to spend on advertising in newspapers — not count online subscriptions? I’m all ears.

(Reuters photo: The Wall Street Journal)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

WSJ is the only newspaper worth respect and reading. I read it every morning.

Circulation is irrelevant except to insert advertisers. The only real measure of impact is audience and for newspapers that remains adult readership.

Posted by SunburnedZebra | Report as abusive