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