Newspaper Circulation Falls Nearly 9%
By Joseph Plambeck, NYT
In the six-month period ending March 31, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported Sunday sales dropping 6.5 percent and weekday sales 8.7 percent compared with the same six-month period a year ago. The decline was widespread, as nearly all of the major newspapers and many of the smaller ones lost circulation. Among the 25 largest papers, The San Francisco Chronicle suffered the most, losing 22.7 percent of its weekday sales.Among the 25 largest circulation newspapers, 10 had declines in weekday circulation of more than 10 percent. The Sunday circulation figures were slightly higher, though far from a bright spot, as five of the 25 largest papers reported double-digit declines.
Newspaper circulation has been in decline for many years, but the drop accelerated in 2007 and even more rapidly through the recession. While the Internet is widely cited for the drop-off, the lower circulation figures have resulted in part from a conscious decision by publishers to focus on the most loyal and profitable readers, often raising prices and limiting discounts. Some publishers have also limited the area covered by delivery services.
"There's a recalibration that's going on in the industry," said Randy Bennett, the senior vice president for business development at the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group. "First there was reducing costs to align with the revenues. Now on the revenue side, there's a recalibration — charging more for subscriptions and driving more revenue on the circulation side."
In the last year, circulation at The New York Times dropped 5.1 percent on Sunday, to 1.4 million copies, and 8.5 percent on weekdays, to 950,000. The Los Angeles Times declined 7.6 percent on Sunday and 14.7 percent during the week. The Chicago Tribune fell 7.5 percent on Sunday and 9.8 percent during the week.
Compared with a year ago, The Wall Street Journal was up 0.5 percent, the only newspaper among the 25 largest to experience a weekday increase. (It does not publish on Sunday.)
The Journal's slight gain helped the paper widen its lead over USA Today for the largest circulation over all, 2.1 million to 1.8 million. USA Today, which had a 13.6 percent weekday decline, has struggled in part because of the downturn in the hotel industry, since at hotels it is frequently distributed free to guests. It had held the top spot for many years before losing it to The Journal last fall.
The St. Petersburg Times, which continues to offer heavy discounts to new subscribers, was the only large newspaper to have a Sunday increase, up nearly 1 percent to about 418,000. Its weekday circulation dipped about 1.5 percent.