Newspaper circulation continues to tank

The Audit Bureau of Circulation has released circulation figures on the nation’s top twenty newspapers, and the overall news isn’t good.

ABC is an independent organization which measures paid circulation of participating newspapers and magazines. They are necessary to verify to advertisers that the numbers being quoted are accurate. The Associated Press list of all twenty newspapers’ performances over the last year shows the top two publications, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, with very slight gains over the previous year. The rest are slipping.

Some prominent names and their numbers: The New York Times, down 3.9% (and Sunday is slipping even faster, by an astonishing 9%). The LA Times, down 5.1%. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, down 8.5%. The Boston Globe, off 8.3%. Dallas Morning News, down 10.6%. Check out the rest at the link above.

It should be noted that this is a year-to-year comparison with the previous period, also a wretched performance in a series of bad years. Also, ABC has softened the rules so much in recent years that their numbers may no longer be very convincing to advertisers. For instance, 20 years ago the number of discounted subscriptions and the amounts of the discounts were controlled: if a newspaper exceeded the limits, the extra sales were not counted. This has been much relaxed, as has the policy for bulk sales, such as to hotels and schools.

The way dealer copies (those sold at newsstands and in stores) are counted has also been liberalized. The upshot of these changes was to make it easier for the industry to count the papers they send out as “paid circulation,” which was typically the only number which interested advertisers. The continued pathetic performance under revised standards indicates that newspapers are bleeding readers.

As someone who spent the better part of his working life in the newspaper business, I find this trend disheartening, but I recognize it is in large part a self-inflicted wound.

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Posted by on April 29, 2008.
Filed under Business, Media, News.
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  • jp2

    “but I recognize it is in large part a self-inflicted wound.”

    Yeah, newspapers invented television AND the internet.

  • jpm100

    “Yeah, newspapers invented television AND the internet.”

    Yeah, the internet was invented just this past summer.

    Oh wait, the internet has done most of its damage to newspapers years ago and doesn’t excuse a 9% decline in one year.

  • Yogurt

    Jim,
    You aren’t disheartened. You’re just a typical cracker who is bitter because the gun shops weren’t open!

  • http://oyster.journalspace.com Oyster

    jp2, what you refuse to acknowledge is the fact that television has been around for many decades. You re also loathe to admit that while the internet does play a role in the decline of sales, it’s not just because of it’s availability, but because it has exposed newspaper journalism AND that of televised news for what they are. Strangely enough – another bit you ignore – Fox News ain’t hurtin’. The fact is, while liberals seem to hate Fox News so much, it’s the only one that comes even close to liberals’ precious “fairness doctrine”.

  • Yogurt

    Another contributor to the change is probably the miraculous jobs our public schools are doing.
    Although Jimmie may know that Billy has two dads, he has to have someone else help him fill out his job application at Wal-Mart because he “graduated” with a 3rd grade reading skill.
    The “upside” is he feels really good about himself because his classmates are the same…

  • moseby

    “Print is dead.”

    –Dr. Egon Spangler

  • Faith+1

    Some of you are missing the bigger picture. It’s not just newspapers that are being hit. It’s ALL print media. I work for a large publisher of magazines ranging from free handouts you get at the grocery store to paid magazines covering a variety of industries. In a rare burst of foresight they also invested heavily in the online world a few years back.

    We’ve seen a huge drop in print revenue in the last 18-24 months. At the same time our online presence has seen 20%-30% growth. It isn’t based on price (as I said some of stuff is free to the consumer and funded entirely by advertisers.)

    Television has not made that impact–jp2 is right (loathe as I am to agree with him on something) but the internet really has hurt print media and not just in the political news department. Their slanted editorials masked as articles certainly hasn’t help them, but its a much bigger evolution. To be perfectly honest I’m betting craigslist has had more impact on advertising dollars in newspapers than all the boycotts over outrage at papers combined.

    For example, suppose I want to sell my widget, or put my home on the market, or somehow advertisement my services. Do I pay the $25-$100 for a local paper or magazine reaching thousands or do I pay a few dollars less to reach millions by distributing my ads across the nation or the world?

    Entire industries are coming together to define standards and protocols to exchange advertisement information from one place to another. Advertisements! Not inventory data, or material goods, but just the ads themselves!

    Would you ever have imagined the various magazines and newspapers meeting to discuss how they might share ad revenue? They missed the change in the industry and are suffering for it.

    Newpapers are the canaries in the mine. The whole industry has changed and those that don’t adapt will die.

  • Mattnu

    This is not a new trend. For a bigger eye opener check out the publishing companies stock prices. Gannet stock prices have been in a free fall most of the year. Lay-offs are occuring albeit very quietly. Greg Patterson at http://www.espressopundit.com has been tracking it for the last few years, which much glee I might add.

    In addition to encroachment of the internet, the big newspapers have completely and totally lost touch with their local readership. I keep up with three different papers, but only their online edition. They are not worth the money to purchase. That includes my hometown newspaper. I only read dead-tree versions when there is one left in the airport or in front of my hotel room door when I travel. I will on occasion pick up the free local weekly regional papers/add circulars because they are light on commentary and have interesting local items.

    I read a lot, but don’t have time to waste on newspapers that have no interest in my or my culture. I also buy various periodicals on dead-tree but very often preview the edition online before I purchase it at the news stand. It is normally somethign I want to refer back to at a later date.

  • http://godsh.blogspot.com/ BlueNight

    To survive, newspapers MUST give customers something the Internet doesn’t… AND establish Internet presences that are as engaging, inviting, and entertaining as Wikipedia, YouTube, WordPress, and Penny Arcade.

    And since most of a newspaper’s money is made on advertising, custom-directed ads for local stores are vital, even on its Net portal.

  • COgirl

    Call me old fashioned, but I still enjoy sitting at the table over a cup of coffee to read the newspapers.

    IMHO, local papers to succeed should focus on LOCAL stories, the things that don’t merit enough attention on the national stage or in a 30 minute local newscast.

    But a paper needs to be in touch with its audience. NYT and its ilk have been trying to set a liberal national agenda at the expense of their credibility. The fact that their readership has been on the decline could also be an expression of reader dissatisfaction. But these guys are too damn arrogant to ever look within for the blame. It’s way too easy to point the blame elsewhere.

  • http://www.pressmart.net Johnson

    I think there is only one solution to increase the revenue and that is e-publishing. Publishing over the online is on boom and most of the people are using the online to see the e-editions of print publications. There are new technologies came in circulation and these new mediums will definitely thrive the readership rate. Companies like http://www.pressmart.net helping the print publishers to distribute over the new technology mediums. I think these kinds of services will really increase the revenues.