Back on the slippery slope of newspaper circulation…
Alan D. Mutter, a former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, said in his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, that weekday print circulation (just print, please note) at the top 25* U.S. newspapers has decreased by 41.6 percent since 2005.
Mutter, a former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, called the drop a “troubling plunge.”
Print matters, Mutter went on to say, because it produces as much as 75 percent of revenue at a typical paper. In previous posts, Mutter has reported that between 2005 and 2012, advertising revenue dropped by more than half, from $49.4 billion to $22.3 billion.
By the way, 2005 was the all-time high for newspaper-advertising revenue.
For his circulation comparison, Mutter relied on statistics compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry-funded trade group formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
(A Wikipedia article says the ABC changed its name last year “to reflect the new media environment and its members’ evolving business models.” Its “members” are the newspapers themselves.)
As newspaper “business models” have evolved, so have the rules by which the AAM counts circulation, making it more difficult to track trends.
As Mutter noted: “In addition to paid print newspapers, publishers today can count digital subscriptions and even free products that deliver preprint advertising to the homes of consumers who don’t happen to buy the newspaper.”
In other words, publishers are now jumping on every manner of distribution at their disposal to pump up circulation figures.
For example, the AAM circulation report released this week shows The Star with total average Sunday circulation, including on-line subscriptions, of 280,790. Its print circulation, however, is 242,395. The difference, 38,395, represents about 14 percent of total circulation.
What is going on at newspapers, then, is a high wire act that could go either way. As Mutter said:
“The foremost question facing publishers is whether the traditional print business will remain robust long enough to support a successful pivot to the digital delivery of news, information, advertising and other commercial services.”
A lot of people, especially the critics of “dead-tree media,” are betting that the print business will not remain robust long enough for papers to make the shift. They might well be right. I hope they’re wrong, but either way I’ll muddle along, and I’ll be happy as long as my New York Times hits the driveway every morning.
And I think that’s going to be happening for many years to come.
* The top 25 newspapers, as listed by Mutter in descending order, are: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, New York Post, Arizona Republic, Newsday, Tampa Bay Times, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Denver Post, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Newark Star-Ledger, Orange County Register, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Las Vegas Review-Journal, San Diego Union-Tribune and Honolulu Star-Advertiser.