Posts Tagged ‘newspaper circulation’

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.

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The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures must have publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and other top KC Star executives squirming.

Daily circulation (Monday to Friday) has hit a new low in the modern era.

For the first time since the paper passed the 200,000 mark on the way up to that level — probably 60 or 70 years ago — it now is below 200,000.

According to the figures, released on Tuesday, The Star’s total average daily circulation was 199,222 for the six-month period ending Sept. 30. That figure includes digital subscriptions.

Daily circulation had been 209,258 for the six-month period ending March 31 of this year.

The dip below 200,000 hurts in more than just the pride category: Those big, round, benchmark figures are important to advertisers. Where a little over 200,000 weekday circulation might draw a shrug from advertisers, the new low would likely draw some frowns and consternation..maybe even a re-evaluation of ad placements and an attempt to negotiate lower rates.

Another shaky development was on Sunday circulation, which is now above the 300,000 mark by the thickness of a piece of newsprint, at 300,450.

For the previous six-month period, total average Sunday circulation was 305,113.

Actually, Sunday circulation dipped below 300,000 at one point last year, but it regained the 300,000 plateau in the spring, after a an ABC rules change allowed papers to include in their figures newspapers distributed through Newspapers in Education (NIE) programs and copies sold in bulk to places like hotels and restaurants.

Now, it would appear, Sunday circulation will fall below 300,000 next March, barring unforeseen, favorable developments.

As recently as March 2009, Sunday circulation stood at 333,000.

Despite the lower numbers, The Star’s circulation still looks pretty good when compared to that of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Although it has the benefit of being in a much larger market, the P-D’s daily circulation, at 191,631, is less than The Star’s.

The P-D is still above 300,000 on Sunday, at 332,825.


Back on the journalistic front, The Star’s Glenn E. Rice had an exceptional story in Wednesday’s paper about the comings and goings of Lisa Irwin’s parents the night she disappeared.


Rice, who has been in on the story from the beginning, hit a home run with his straight-to-the point lead paragraph.

“The night before her 10-month-old daughter disappeared, Deborah Bradley spent several hours talking with a friend, smoking cigarettes and drinking five to 10 glasses of wine.”

From there, Rice gave a no-frills, right-down-the-line account of what took place in the Bradleys’ house that night…well, everything, of course, besides what happened to Lisa.

Wisely, Rice kept his voice out of the story and simply let the facts spill out. (Rice relied on an anonymous source who was “familiar with the family’s recollection of events from Oct. 3 and 4.”)

From the story, it appears to me that neither of them attempted to cover up anything that night. I now tend to think it was either an abduction — perhaps by someone familiar with Deborah’s drinking habits and Jeremy Bradley’s working schedule — or maybe a “baby giveaway.”

Maybe Lisa was interfering with Lisa’s wine-drinking sessions and had simply become too much of a bother for her. Also, if Deborah was drinking as much as she said the night of Oct. 3, I don’t think she would have had her wits about her enough to engineer, God forbid, the murder of her child without leaving any telltale evidence.

Of course, we don’t know everything that the police have — and they seem to think Deborah had something to do with the disappearance — but the fact that the mystery has gone on this long tends to indicate that clues are in short supply.

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For the first time in the modern newspaper era, The Kansas City Star’s Sunday circulation has fallen below 300,000.

In all probability, Sunday circulation has not been below 300,000 since it crested that number, perhaps around 1950 or earlier.

According to the most recent report, issued Monday, by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Star’s Sunday circulation fell to 290,302 for the April-September reporting period.

That represented a 5.7 percent dip from the previous year (when Sunday circulation stood at 307,974) and a 10.6 percent drop from 2008.

The Star has been battling desperately to prop up Sunday circulation. In recent years, for example, the company has been providing Sunday papers to subscribers of The Olathe News, which The Star bought several years ago. More recently — and more surprisingly — it  began providing Sunday papers to subscribers of a competitor, The Examiner, which distributes in Independence and the fast-growing suburbs of Blue Springs and Grain Valley.

This coming Sunday, The Star is starting a special promotion — featuring 3-D images in parts of the paper. Each copy will contain special glasses. 

The Star has good company in falling circulation, of course. The Audit Bureau showed that average weekday circulation at 635 newspapers declined 5 percent compared with 2009.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was another major paper to fall beneath a long-time Sunday benchmark — 400,000. Its Sunday circulation fell 8.9 percent, from 401,425 to 365,589.

If there’s any good news in the overall report, it’s that circulation is not falling as fast as it was a few years ago.

The “decreasing decrease” in circulation mimics the trend in advertising, which also fell off a cliff a few years ago and is still trending downward, but not as sharply. 

The Newspaper Association of America, a trade group, reported recently that newspaper advertising revenues were on track this year to hit a 25-year low of about $26.5 billion. That would be less than half the revenue ($49.4 billion) that newspaper advertising generated as recently as 2005.

The only truly hopeful sign for publishers is that online advertising has climbed almost 50 percent, to $1.5 billion, during the last five years. 

Circulation, of course, is the horse that pulls the advertising cart. When circulation falls, it puts downward pressure on ad rates.

The fact that circulation and advertising losses are diminishing — and that online advertising is increasing — offer the only light at the end of what has turned into an extremely long tunnel for newspapers. Had circulation and advertising continued to drop the way they were a few years ago, a lot more newspaper companies would not be publishing print editions at this point.  

Regarding The Star’s situation, I sent K.C. Star publisher Mark Zieman an e-mail Wednesday morning, seeking a comment, but I got no response.

A former Star executive told me a year or so ago that Zieman sees his overriding mission as saving the The Star’s print edition. If that is the case, his relative youth — he’s about 50 — could work against him. 

The Star’s weekday and Saturday circulation also fell. Daily circulation was down 4.5 percent — to 206,441 — and Saturday circulation was off a whopping 7.8 percent.

As recently as 2000, The Star mounted a marketing campaign designed to propel weekday circulation above 300,000. My, how aspirations have changed in the last decade.

The ABC figures include electronic, as well as print, subscriptions. Electronic subscriptions now comprise 12 percent of The Star’s total weekday circulation.

According to ABC, a trade group, The Wall Street Journal has the highest average daily circulation, with slightly more than 2 million papers sold daily. USA Today is second, at 1.8 million, and The New York Times is third at 876,638.

Rounding out the top five were The Los Angeles Times (600,449) and The Washington Post (545,345).

The New York Times has the highest Sunday circulation, at 1.3 million. The Wall Street Journal and USA Today do not publish on Sunday.

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