Circ Up? Depends on What Day It Is

By: Jennifer Saba

Last September’s FAS-FAX from the Audit Bureau of Circulations delivered more than just unimpressive numbers. The latest FAS-FAX marked the arrival of required day-of-week reporting. About half of ABC’s members now break out circulation on a day-to-day basis, along with a Monday-through-Friday average (papers with a circ under 25,000 have the option of using the format).

Physically, it’s not obvious that much has changed, at least on the FAS-FAX’s PDF version. Advertisers, agencies, and other interested parties have to look pretty hard to find the day-of-week numbers. That’s because ABC makes the information available only on the Excel version of the FAS-FAX. The PDF report notates papers that are on the day-of-week schedule with a “(d)” under the frequency column, but explorers have to hunt for the information in the Excel report. ABC wanted to keep the PDF version clean; breaking out each day would make the 115-page report even longer.

A glance at the Excel FAS-FAX for those papers working under the new rule ? all members expected to report day of week will use the new format in the March 2006 FAS-FAX ? show some immense circulation swings, depending on the day of the week. It’s accepted wisdom that weaker circulation days tend to fall early in the week. Looking at Monday through Friday, this new format brings to light just how large the deviations are.

Consider the Los Angeles Times. The September FAS-FAX shows that the paper’s best circ day is Friday with 990,904 copies. The paper’s most sluggish day is Tuesday with 780,957. That’s a spread of 200,947 copies. The Chicago Tribune’s gap between its best and worst weekday is even wider. On Friday, the paper’s circ is 684,664. On Monday, it’s 464,415 ? a difference of 220,249 copies.

The San Diego Union-Tribune drops 53,478 copies comparing Thursday’s number (343,771) and Tuesday’s (290,293). Circulation at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., tumbles by 95,427 copies from its best day, Thursday (470,435) to its worst day, Tuesday (375,008). The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s circulation falls by 59,702 copies when comparing its best day ? Friday, at 262,869 ? to its worst day, Wednesday, at 203,167. The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News shows a 46,629 decrease between its best day, Thursday, at 165,260 copies and its worst day, Wednesday, at 118,631.

The fact the new day-of-week standard uncovers weaker circ days might trouble some advertisers. Most likely, some of them will put pressure on rates and perhaps even stop advertising altogether on days with softer circulation.

Bryan Jackson, director of newspaper investment at ad agency OMD in Atlanta, says the new reporting method is helpful especially as clients determine what days are best to buy. Because his agency is in the process of negotiating 2006 contracts, he says it’s too early to tell if day-of-week circulation will affect ad rates. He notes that publishers typically price rate cards on groups of days, like Monday through Wednesday. “I think the reps we deal with are cautious about it,” he says about bringing attention to the new format, but adds the Los Angeles Times is one of the few papers to mention it.

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