How I learned to stop worrying and love bad newspaper news
We had a hard time finding the good news in Monday’s report that U.S. newspaper circulation has fallen more than 10 percent, based on an analysis of 379 daily papers. Thank goodness for the newspapers whose publishers helped them understand why losing hundreds or thousands of paying readers is good.
Most papers acknowledged deep declines in circulation, but explained it in one of the following ways:
- We had to clear out all the bulk copies sold at discount. (I’m still not sure how this one works because I recall publishers saying this a couple of years ago. How many deadwood readers are there?)
- We shrank our coverage area so of course we lost some circulation. It tells advertisers that they’re getting a BETTER quality of reader.
- We’re charging more for the paper so circulation revenue has risen, and anyway, who wants to rely on a business as fickle as advertising (the one that lined our owners’ pockets for the past 150 years.)?
- Readership is rising on the Internet.
- At least we didn’t get whacked as bad as the next guy.
All these statements are true, and they all are good business moves. What I can’t find among the numbers is what percent of print decline at many of these papers is because of the other reasons that you hear from people. Some are legitimate, some aren’t and some are just silly. All say one thing: Many people don’t pay for the paper anymore, which means there’s less money to keep them in business. (Don’t believe us? Ask the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer):
- I hate my newspaper
- My newspaper doesn’t have anything interesting in it
- News is boring
- News is free on the Internet
- My newspaper is biased to the right/left/middle/other Little League team than the one my kid is on
- My paper stopped running Garfield in the funnies. It doesn’t run Hints From Heloise anymore.
- You can’t get good TV listings anymore
- I don’t care about anything that happens in the rest of the world or outside my front door.
- There’s not enough local/regional/national/world news here.
- The sports section sucks.
- It always arrives too early/late for me to read it.
Here are samples of how some papers handled Monday’s news:
San Francisco Chronicle headline: Chronicle’s strategy shift starts to pay off
The Chronicle said Monday that reshaping the newspaper’s business model is paying off financially even though, as anticipated, it has resulted in a sharp decline in circulation. For the six months that ended in September, The Chronicle’s daily circulation dropped 25.8 percent to 251,782, compared with the same period in 2008, the steepest decline among major U.S. metropolitan papers. …
Frank Vega, publisher of The Chronicle, said the newspaper’s loss in circulation was an expected result of moving away from a business model that depends mainly on advertising and instead relies on readers for a greater share of revenue.
The Chron also adds that subscription price increases and other changes have given it some profitable weeks after losing $50 million last year.
The Detroit News: Detroit newspapers lose less circulation than other big dailies
The steeper losses at other newspapers boosted the Detroit publications’ rankings among the largest in the country. The News pulled ahead from 50th place to 46th; the Free Press jumped from 20th to 17th.
“We radically changed our delivery model and throughout the industry we have seen greater losses,” Janet Hasson, senior vice president of audience development for the Detroit Media Partnership, said in a statement.
The Des Moines Register: Newspaper circulation falls, including at Register
Register Publisher Laura Hollingsworth said much of the decline is due to strategic changes, such as eliminating discounts, reducing unprofitable delivery in far corners of the state and increasing home delivery and single copy prices.
“Our unduplicated audience reach in central Iowa is higher today than it was a decade ago,” Hollingsworth said.
As you can see, things are doing well, so please stop telling everyone that they’re not.