MediaFile

Newspaper circ slides — yet again

The organization that keeps up with newspaper circulation released another bleak round of numbers this morning. For the 602 daily newspapers that reported into the Audit Bureau of Circulations, total daily circ plummeted 8.7 percent while Sunday circ for 548 papers fell 6.5 percent for the six months ending March 2010 compared to the same period last year.

There is a familiar phrase echoed to explain the numbers, the same phrase used to describe advertising results: the declines are moderating! At least compared to the six months ending September 2009, when circulation was in a nosedive, with daily  down 10.6 percent  and Sunday down 7.5 percent.

Sure, some of that is self-inflicted by publishers weeding out certain types of circulation like those freebie copies you might pick up at a big box retailer. But a big chunk of the loss  isn’t by choice. The reality is that readers are choosing to go elsewhere.

The good news is the industry is finally trying to make the case that it is  more than just pulp and ink and that newspapers reach people through other channels like the Internet and mobile phones.  Soon (and hopefully not too late) that data will  be a more integral part of the ABC statements.

So that’s why it’s disheartening to see USA Today still try and claim the top spot by splitting hairs. USA Today  is the No. 2 newspaper in the country by daily circ —  it was knocked down a peg by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal has always been the envy of the industry since it can rightly count some of its paid WSJ.com subs toward its top line circulation number.  Yet  USA Today is still trumpeting that it remains tops in print circulation. (Headline of their press release reads “USA Today Remains Number One in Total Daily Print Circulation”)

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):

Tribune365, thinking beyond newspaper circulation

Monday’s newspaper circulation numbers please no one who makes their living from selling papers. That’s evident when you look at the top 25 dailies by circulation and see that the best performance came from The Wall Street Journal, which rose less than 1 percent. Considering that advertisers use these numbers to determine where to spend their money, there is little reason to rejoice.

Tribune Co’s two largest papers, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, both posted steep declines on Monday, but the company is urging advertisers to look beyond numbers that it considers less relevant than they were before the Internet. Instead, it wants them to look at how many people they can reach through Tribune’s diverse lineup of papers, websites and television stations.

To make this easier, Tribune has started “Tribune365,” a “multichannel sales solutions group providing customized marketing programs to advertisers looking to reach consumers across a variety of media platforms.” (More on what this means — in English — below.)

WSJ vs USA Today: Who has the biggest paper?

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.