By: Jennifer Saba
By now you know that the Newspaper Association of America reported today — after looking latest FAS-FAX — that overall daily circulation fell 2.1% and Sunday skidded 3% for the most recent reporting period. But why, especially with relatively easy comparisons?
Blame the cutting of other-paid circulation, which includes hotel, employee, Newspapers in Education and third-party copies, for the losses. Publishers are dialing back on their distribution areas, focusing on the “core market.” The category of single copy — while a small portion of circulation — is suffering large declines affecting the overall numbers.
Add that to the simple fact that fewer people want to read the print paper, quipped one executive at a major daily, and you have more than enough for an impressive fall-off.
The Dallas Morning News reported daily circ fell 14.3% to 411,919 copies while Sunday declined 13.3% to 563,079 copies — some of the biggest drops in the industry. Publisher Jim Moroney said in a phone call this afternoon the paper is trimming third-party circulation and tightening its focus mainly to a distribution-area within 100-mile radius. “At one time we had circulation from as far away as Tulsa and Little Rock,” he said.
“All of this we are doing deliberately,” Moroney said adding the paper started culling this circ about a year ago. Half of the circulation losses for this period account for the strategy.
Other papers reporting decreases in daily circulation reveal a cut in other-paid too: The San Jose Mercury News lost 8,315 copies of its other-paid circ or a loss of 41.9%. The Star-Ledger in Newark trimmed back 12,170 copies in the category, a decline of 22%.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that daily circ slipped 8% — one of the bigger drops in the industry. Kevin Courtney, a spokesman for the paper, pointed to the Sun-Sentinel’s 75% decline in the other-paid category for the loss. “We have been cutting third-party circ and focusing on individually paid,” said Courtney.
In Miami, where daily circ was down 5.5%, Vice President of Circulation Terry Whitney explained the paper eliminated its state editions, third party, and event-related circulation. Still, Whitney noted, it’s not helping that people are moving out of Miami — a similar problem to that experienced by the Sun-Sentinel — because of high taxes and real estate costs. “Individually paid is not as good as we would like it,” Whitney said.
More or less?
Take a closer look at the daily gains made at the New York Post and Daily News and you’ll find that other-paid and discounted circulation soared. At the Post, other-paid circ grew 129% by 38,122 copies and discounted circ (the paper cost 25 cents during this period) jumped 249%. The Daily News reported similar increases, with other-paid up 51,145 copies or 55%.
The Philadelphia Inquirer advanced its daily circ 0.6%. Discounted circ rose 357% by 15,450 copies. Brian Tierney, publisher of the Inquirer, is counting on the discount to rope in more readers. “We are targeting primarily women 35 and up, light and lapsed readers and trying to get them to buy it more,” said Tierney.
He mainly credits Editor Bill Marimow’s leadership and an aggressive marketing campaign for the circ rise. Tierney is spending $14 million on circulation and marketing. “For the next few years we are going to look really good compared to others because the paper has been starved for so long,” he said.
While the overall print numbers don’t look so hot, there’s another story that gets buried every time print circulation figures are released. When a newspaper’s Web site is taken into account, it gains a healthy number of readers.
There is a movement in the industry to start reporting total audience figures along with print circulation. ABC said if approved in the summer, the organization is going to audit total audience metrics and include them in the FAS-FAX report as soon as September.
“The advertising community and advertisers who sit on the ABC board have asked the industry and specifically asked ABC to work with us and try and develop a way from them to get total audience information,” said John Kimball, chief marketing officer at the Newspaper Association of America.
It will be a welcome change because without that data there is a gaping hole. Yes, newspapers are losing print readers but evidence suggests they are gaining more through their Web sites. Plus it would help sell the story that newspapers are reaching more people if the data is in one place.
The Austin American-Statesman’s daily circ declined 5.6% for example. But according to a report released by Scarborough Research last week, 21% of adults in the Austin market accessed the newspaper’s Web site during a seven-day period.
The Boston Globe may have lost 6.9% of its Sunday print readers. And yet, 17% of adults in Boston have read Boston.com during a seven-day period.
Look at The San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper lost 4.9% of its daily circulation. Scarborough revealed that 16% of adults in the market visited its Web site, SignOnSanDiego.com.
“The strategy we have is total audience,” said Bill Nagel, the paper’s vice president of circulation. “That’s what advertisers want us to deliver and we are executing on that.”
Related E&P Stories:
— FAS-FAX Circ Numbers for the Top 25 Dailies and Sunday Papers
— ABC Reveals Big Drops in Circ in Spring 2007
— Mutter’s FAS-FAX Analysis: Coming Clean About Circ — Painfully
— NAA Analysis of ABC Confirms Overall Circ Slide