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