By: Mark Fitzgerald
Top 25 papers may have reversed long slump in daily circulation
but momentum is fading from Sunday’s decades-long surge, FAS-FAX indicates
Newspapers are beginning to show signs ? however modest ? that they are turning around their long circulation slump. For the first time this decade, the majority of the nation’s 25 biggest newspapers reported average daily circulation gains for two consecutive Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX reporting periods. For the six months ended March 31, 17 of the top 25 papers reported year-over-year gains, while just six reported decreases.
MOSTLY MODEST GAINS
Most of those big-city newspaper gains were modest, to be sure ? with seven of the period’s gainers failing to break even a 1% gain.
Yet there were also some increases that were substantial by any measure, especially among the biggest papers. USA Today, for instance, was up a total of 53,185 copies to 1,715,245, an increase of 3.1% over the same period last year.
And the Los Angeles Times, which had been barely over 1 million circulation only two years ago, continues to show early success in its campaign to net 1.5 million paid circulation. For this period, it reported an increase of 26,201 copies, or 2.4%, to 1,095,007.
Times Mirror chairman Mark Willes, who is also the Los Angeles Times publisher, credited editorial improvements and the paper’s ongoing branding campaign ? featuring special events and promotional tie-ins with retailers ? for much of the increase. The Times also said it had “begun to see the benefits” of its controversial reorganization, which put editorial sections under the management of marketers.
In Phoenix, the Arizona Republic added circulation over and above the increase that might have been expected when it folded the afternoon Phoenix Gazette in January 1997. The Republic’s daily circulation showed a 4.46% increase over the combined Republic/Gazette total for the same period in 1996-97.
“That is true growth, and it is not aided by the closing of the Gazette,” said Carol Freeman, Phoenix Newspapers’ circulation sales manager.
Both Detroit papers won back some of the circulation lost during the long labor strike that ended with an unconditional offer to return to work on Valentine’s Day, 1997. Detroit Free Press daily circulation was up 16,143 copies, or 4.4%, to 381,599, while Detroit News was up 5,907, or 2.4%, to 244,850 on weekdays. On Sundays, the combined Detroit News and Free Press increased 14,156 copies, or 1.7%, to 809,479.
An analysis of the FAS-FAX by the Newspaper Association of America shows that overall daily newspaper circulation increased by 0.072%.
“We already know that more people read a daily newspaper than purchase one,” NAA president and CEO John F. Sturm said. “These ABC figures show us that increasing numbers of people are buying one as well.”
While NAA characterized the ABC figures as “further good news for the newspaper industry,” the flat line trend of circulation only fuels its recent push to draw public attention to newspaper readership, which research shows is growing even as broadcast and cable television viewership is declining slightly.
NAA’s analysis of this latest FAS-FAX shows that Sunday circulation, once the industry’s showcase achievement, is down again ? this time off 0.172% from a year ago.
Big-city newspaper sales on Sunday rose modestly, with 17 of the top 25 Sunday papers reporting increases ? 11 of those under 1%.
The Minneapolis-based Star Tribune posted a .9% Sunday increase of 5,058 copies to 708,636. The Arizona Republic’s daily increase of 20,972 copies, or 4.46%, was more than double the Sunday gain of 8,963 copies, or 1.46%.
Overall, NAA said, 43.16% of Sunday newspapers reported circulation gains.
In Chicago, year-over-year sales of Sunday papers dipped at both of the city’s major dailies, despite a single-copy price war that the Chicago Tribune initiated in February. The market-leading Tribune was off 11,316 copies, or 1%, to 1,034,440, while the Chicago Sun-Times was down 6,637, or 1.5%, to 431,639.
Weekdays, the Sun-Times gained 2,460 copies, or 0.5%, to 494,146, while the Tribune declined 9,065 copies, or 1.3%, to 655,522. Sun-Times vice president of circulation Mark Hornung said editorial improvements at the tabloid helped in winning and retaining home-delivery customers, helping to offset a decline in street sales. Tribune vice president of consumer marketing and sales David P. Murphy said that while overall circulation slipped slightly, the paper has seen first-quarter increases in its nine-county primary market and also in sales targeted to specific days. In the first-quarter, he said, Wednesday through Friday circulation was up 3.9% over the same period last year.
In Denver, neither the Denver Post nor the Rocky Mountain News made the top 25 daily newspaper list. The Post continued the overall circulation dominance it cemented two years ago when the News cut circulation outside the Denver metropolitan area.
Denver Post daily circulation increased 4,275 copies, or 1.2%, to 354,102, while the Rocky Mountain News lost 3,851 copies, or 1.1%, to 325,320.
On Sundays, the Post, the biggest percentage gainer among the top 25 papers, reported sales rose 20,357 copies, or 4.3%, to 490,738. The News had a stronger percentage increase, 4.75%, as it gained 19,699 copies to 434,951.
?(“We already know that more people read a daily newspaper than purchase one. These ABC figures show us that increasing numbers of people are buying one as well.” )[Photo & Caption]
?(John F. Sturm, president-CEO, Newspaper Association of America) [Caption & Photo]
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 9, 1998) [Caption]