Most Top Newspapers Report Circ Gains

By: Seth Sutel, AP Business Writer

(AP) USA Today widened its lead as the nation’s biggest circulation newspaper Monday in the first report using new rules counting copies sold through hotels, airlines, and other third parties.

The new rules also let publishers count as paid circulation any copies sold for at least 25% of the basic price. Previously, only copies sold for at least half the basic price were counted.

The biannual report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), a Schaumburg, Ill.-based industry group, covered the six months ended Sept. 30.

The 2001 period was not exactly comparable to the same period a year ago because of the rule changes, but the ABC approximated the difference. It provided 2000 figures combining previously reported numbers and bulk sales, which are now included in the totals. The year-ago figures do not take into account other rule changes such as counting copies sold for as little as 25% of the basic price, or new guidelines governing the sales of copies to hotel guests.

Under the new rules, USA Today remained No. 1 in the country, with 2,241,677 average daily circulation. That was down 0.6% from a year ago.

The most recent report showed that USA Today had 994,077 copies sold to readers through third parties such as hotels, airlines, and schools. That category, now called “other paid” circulation, was formerly classified as bulk sales and not included in circulation totals. Copies sold to individual buyers came to 1,247,600.

All but six of the top 20 newspapers reported gains in circulation, compared to a year ago. While the events of Sept. 11 likely played into some circulation gains, the effect was averaged out over the six months.

The Wall Street Journal kept its No. 2 spot behind USA Today with a gain of 1.0% to 1,780,605, and The New York Times rose 1.1% to 1,109,371.

The Los Angeles Times, which implemented a single-copy price increase in March from 25 cents to 50 cents and eliminated some discounting practices, had a 4.9% decline to 972,957. The Washington Post declined 0.7% to 759,864.

The New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., had a 22% jump in circulation to 533,860 after it cut its cover price in half to 25 cents. Its crosstown rival, the Daily News, rose 4.6% to 734,473

The Newspaper Association of America, in its own analysis of the ABC figures, said total daily circulation for the 757 papers reporting for the period came to 47,861,622. The NAA did not provide a comparable figure for the same period a year ago, saying that the new rule definitions made the comparison difficult.

The ABC gave final approval to the new circulation rules in March after many months of deliberations. Publishers wanted to count discounted copies as paid circulation to make more effective promotions.

In return, the publishers will break out more specific information for advertisers on their circulation statements, detailing how those copies are sold.

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