Cir­cu­la­tion down at top pa­pers; In­ter­net, 24-hour news cy­cle blamed

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Kara Row­land

All but three of the 25 big­gest daily U.S. news­pa­pers re­ported a drop in av­er­age daily cir­cu­la­tion in the past year, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try data re­leased Oct. 30, un­der­scor­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of the In­ter­net and cable television.

Av­er­age daily cir­cu­la­tion at 770 U.S. news­pa­pers fell 2.8 per­cent in the six-month pe­riod end­ing Sept. 30, com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2005, ac­cord­ing to the News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, a Vi­enna, Va., trade group.

Sun­day cir­cu­la­tion de­clined 3.4 per­cent, the NAA said in an anal­y­sis of in­dus­try data com­piled semi­an­nu­ally by the Au­dit Bureau of Cir­cu­la­tions, a non­profit group of ad­ver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers.

The Wash­ing­ton Post, the sev­enth-largest daily news­pa­per, saw a 3.31-per­cent slump in cir­cu­la­tion, drop­ping to 656,297. The Wash­ing­ton Times gained nearly 4 per­cent, im­prov­ing cir­cu­la­tion to 100,074.

Dick Am­berg, The Times’ vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager, called the in­crease “a re­sult of hard ef­fort. We’re still not where we want to be,” said Mr. Am­berg, who noted that home-de­liv­ery and sin­gle-copy sales “are es­pe­cially hard to ac­quire. We’re happy to be over 100,000. It’s a bench­mark we al­ways as­pire to.”

USA To­day, the lead­ing U.S. pa­per in terms of av­er­age daily cir­cu­la­tion, re­ported a 1.32 per­cent slip to 2,269,509. The sec­ond-ranked Wall Street Jour­nal fell 1.94 per­cent to 2,043,235.

Cir­cu­la­tion de­clined by 3.5 per­cent at the New York Times, the third-largest daily, to 1,086,798.

The Los An­ge­les Times, rank­ing fourth, re­ported the largest drop among the na­tion’s top 25 pa­pers, sink­ing by more than 8 per­cent to 775,766.

The pa­per, owned by the em­bat­tled Tri­bune Co. — which also owns the Bal­ti­more Sun — is a prom­i­nent ex­am­ple of the strug­gle of news­pa­pers ev­ery­where to cut op­er­at­ing costs and com­pete with “new me­dia” des­ti­na­tions such as blogs and In­ter­net news sites.

“The out­look of all print pub­lish­ers is not that great,” said Gary Arlen, pres­i­dent of Arlen Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc., a Bethesda, Md. me­dia re­search and con­sult­ing firm.

“News­pa­pers can’t keep up when you pub­lish once a day and those who care about the news are on a 24-hour news cy­cle. Peo- ple want to get it when they want it,” he said.

Two of the three pa­pers in the top 25 that ex­pe­ri­enced boosts in cir­cu­la­tion were New York City tabloids. The New York Post over­took the New York Daily News, grow­ing 5.13 per­cent to 704,011, com­pared with the Daily News, which gained 1.04 per­cent to 693,382.

In its anal­y­sis of Au­dit Bureau data, the NAA said that to­tal news­pa­per read­er­ship is up — de­spite fall­ing print cir­cu­la­tion num­bers — when Web site vis­its, news­pa­per-shar­ing and other fac­tors are con­sid­ered.

The NAA touted sta­tis­tics from Nielsen/NetRat­ings that recorded a 23.9 per­cent jump in vis­i­tors to news­pa­per Web sites in the third quar­ter of 2006 to 57 mil­lion.

“Data that mea­sure the ex­panded au­di­ence is pre­cisely what ad­ver­tis­ers want to en­hance their un­der­stand­ing of con­sumer use across news­pa­pers’ mul­ti­ple me­dia plat­forms,” said John F. Sturm, the trade group’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “Sim­ply fo­cus­ing on print-cir­cu­la­tion num­bers in a vac­uum ob­scures that un­der­stand­ing.”

De­clin­ing print cir­cu­la­tion num­bers prob­a­bly won’t af­fect ad­ver­tis­ing rates that much, but news­pa­pers will likely take fur­ther steps to en­hance ad­ver­tis­ing value — such as giv­ing ad­ver­tis­ers more in­ser­tions or on­line ads at no ad­di­tional charge — said Howard Bom­stein, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Bom­stein Agency, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. ad­ver­tis­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions firm.

Cir­cu­la­tion sta­tis­tics are im­por­tant to ad­ver­tis­ers, but they “don’t al­ways tell the en­tire tale,” Mr. Bom­stein noted.

For ex­am­ple, he said, “Take a Wall Street Jour­nal that goes to an of­fice. One copy of the Wall Street Jour­nal might have 30 read­ers in a given day.”

News­pa­pers can en­sure steady ad rev­enues by com­pen­sat­ing for drops in print read­er­ship by bol­ster­ing their Web sites, he added.

“If [cir­cu­la­tion] goes down 2 per­cent, say 2,000 peo­ple, but you’re adding 250,000 hits to the Web site, that more than makes up for it,” he said.

The Au­dit Bureau fig­ures are based on news­pa­pers’ pub­lished cir­cu­la­tion re­ports. Some of the data have yet to be au­dited.

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