‘L.A. Times’ Reports Steep Circ Drop in FAS-FAX

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By: Jennifer Saba

The Los Angeles Times keeps taking it on the chin or in the shins: declining advertising revenue, an ousted publisher, impending job cuts, wealthy locals angling for ownership (note to David Geffen: Have your people call Brian Tierney’s people), displeased staffers, and now this.

Circulation at the L.A. paper, according to the FAS-FAX released this morning, took one of its biggest drops ever with daily down 8% and Sunday down 6% for the six-month period ending September 2006. Many other major metros followed suit and the industry took an average daily hit of 2% to 3%.

The San Jose Mercury News, for example, is off 9.4% daily and 9.7% Sundays.

Over the past several reporting periods, while the Times lost circulation, it wasn’t nearly as steep. In March 2006, daily circulation at the paper declined 5.4% and Sunday decreased 1.7%. In September 2005, the paper’s daily circulation fell 3.7% and Sunday slipped 3.4%.

The loss is extensive this go-around, but there are some positive aspects to come out of the overall numbers.

Veteran Jack Klunder, who returned to the Los Angeles Times a year and a half ago as senior vice president/circulation after a brief stint with the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, explains that individually paid weekday circulation is on the rise, up a fraction to 0.3%. “We have been working really hard for the past year and a half, focusing on individually paid copies,” Klunder told E&P.

As for the declines in circulation, Klunder attributes the loss almost entirely to trimming other-paid circulation, a category considered less valuable to some advertisers. The Los Angeles Times reduced the category by 67% on weekdays and 75% on Sunday partly by eliminating all of its hotel copies and cutting back Newspapers In Education (NIE), Klunder said.

The Times has indeed been making strides scaling back other-paid circulation. According to Prudential Equity Research, which has been tracking the progress of some of the top 50 papers in the U.S., the Los Angeles, for the six-month period ending March 2006, other paid was down 41.6% at the paper.

The paper launched a marketing campaign and is on the hunt to net infrequent readers.

As for appealing to young readers, Klunder is candid about stripping copies from NIE, a program many in the industry consider valuable: “School copies have been around for over 20 years and circulation has been declining for 20 years, so I don’t know if it’s translating or not.”

At the Mercury News. Vice President/Circulation David Rounds said the paper has been cutting back on the other-paid category and that home-delivered copies increased this period. Rounds pointed out the paper is still feeling the effects of a single-copy price hike.

The Kansas City Star experienced circulation losses with daily down 1.9% and Sunday down 1.7%. The paper is expected to report growth in home delivery.

There are gainers. The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch is expected to be up, at least in weekday circulation. Daily is estimated to rise roughly 0.6%. Sunday will show losses estimated somewhere around 3.5%. The Times-Dispatch is focusing on home-delivered copies, which should be up. Third-party circ, part of the other-paid category, is up over last year.


Related E&P Stories:

Big Metros Show Severe Declines in Latest Circ Report

Chart of FAS FAX Results for Top 25 Daily Papers in the U.S.

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