Sunday Will Never Be the Same?

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

After a few decades of outpacing daily circulation increases — and growing even as weekday numbers flattened, then declined — the Sunday edition in the late 1990s ceased being the industry’s circulation driver. But Sunday single-copy sales continued to be valued for the full cover price it usually fetched, and the younger demographic was far more inclined to pick up the paper at the newsstand than to subscribe.
 
But it turns out that in recent years, Sunday single-copy sales have fallen far harder than home delivery, which in some metro markets has held up fairly well. As this chart shows, the past five years have been especially hard on Sunday single-copy. (Circulation consultant Jay Schiller tracked Audit Bureau of Circulations Publisher’s Statements to create the chart for E&P.)
 
In some cases, the big drops are deliberate, as newspapers ended sales in far-flung areas far from their core markets. But price and lifestyle played a part, too, says John Murray, vice president of audience development for the Newspaper Association of America.
 
Newspapers get single-copy sales resistance at certain price points — it starts kicking in the closer a paper gets to $2 — and newspapers have increased cover prices nearly across the board in recent years.
 
Then, too, “In lifestyle terms, Sunday has become Saturday,” Murray observes. Where once stores were closed on Sunday and youth teams would never schedule games on the Sabbath, recreational and commercial activities abound now. “The industry took a hit on that,” he adds.
 
What has held up is the value proposition of the Sunday paper — all those inserts and coupons, and an editorial product still regarded as the best of the week.
 
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Top 10 highest percentage losses in Sunday single-copy circ since 2005:

Paper       2010 Circ       % chg. Since 2005
1. Los Angeles Times       12,173       -68.8%
2. The Baltimore Sun       58,827       -53.7%
3. The Dallas Morning News       104,975       -53.0%
4. The San Diego Union-Tribune42,782       -50.6%
5. St. Louis Dispatch       81,824       -50.4%
6. The New York Times       259,121       -48.5%
7. Los Angeles Times       129,569       -48.5%
8. Boston Globe       88,720       -46.5%
9. Newsday       94,132       -45.1%
10. Orlando Sentinel       49,959       -44.3%
 
Top 10 gainers/lowest percentage losses in Sunday circ since 2005:

Paper       2010 Circ       % chg. Since 2005
1. Des Moines Register       62,621       9.3%
2. The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.       36,833       6.5%
3. St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press       63,556       1.5%
4. The Stuart (Fla.) News       24,917       -1.2%
5. The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press       33,506       -4.1
6. The Daytona Beach News-Journal       17,135       -4.8%
7. Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.       29,413       -4.9%
8. The Greenville (S.C.) News       36,772       -5.4
9. The Tennessean, Nashville       53,675       -7.0%
10. St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times       103,411       -9.2%
 
SOURCE: Audit Bureau of Circulations Publisher Statements

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