New Report Offers Surprise: ‘Total Readership’ Stalls

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By: Jennifer Saba

This Monday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations is set to release the latest circulation figures for many of the country’s top dailies. Industry sources, E&P has learned, now expect the losses to continue — even steeper than recent grim periods: For the six months ending March 2008, daily is expected to drop 3.5% and Sunday circulation will fall roughly 4.5%.

Along with the print circulation numbers, ABC will release its Audience-FAX data, which includes readership stats for newspaper Web sites. It’s an industry-wide push to rightly shift the focus from paid print circulation to a more inclusive look with other properties, particularly newspaper Web sites. ABC launched the initiative for the six-month period ending September 2007 — so until next September, it will be difficult to ascertain any trend lines with Audience-FAX.

However, Scarborough Research just released its latest 2008 Newspaper Audience Rating Report. In this survey, Scarborough measured the market reach of the dominate newspaper’s print product and the core online Web site in 81 of the country’s top designated market areas (DMA).

The latest data shows that when taking print and online readership into account, newspapers are actually losing market share.

First, a primer: Scarborough measures the adults in a local DMA who “read or looked into” the daily (Monday-through-Friday) or Sunday print edition of the paper during the past seven days. The weekly Web site audience reach measures adults in a given DMA who visited the newspaper’s core Web site within the past seven days. The integrated newspaper audience reach is the percentage of adults who have read the printed newspaper or visited the Web site or did both during the past seven days.

E&P compared the 2008 data with the 2007 Scarborough report in order to get a sense of where overall readership was trending. Twenty markets were chosen. The big ones like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, where the DMAs included several newspapers, and markets with newspapers under joint operating agreements were not included.

When comparing 20 papers, only two — The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Oregonian in Portland — increased their integrated market reach year-over-year.

The good news is that most of the 20 papers grew their online audience. At worst online readership was flat.

Print readership though declined in almost every market.

Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media services at Scarborough Research explained why: “In general, print [readership] is in a steady decline, and online readership is growing but the declines in print are not being offset by the increases in online readership,” he said. “The integrated newspaper audience is declining.”

It’s not unlike what is happening with total online revenue where the online revenue growth, while steady, can’t make up for the losses in print revenue. Print readership dwarfs online readership so a loss of one percentage point could mean thousands of readers. The percentage gains in online readership may be big, but it’s coming off a small base.

“The online audience is growing and it’s important and should not be overlooked,” Meo said. “If newspapers are not investing in their Web sites than their overall declines would be worse.”

Meo stressed that this report only looks at the newspaper’s core print product and online Web site. “As you know, newspapers are developing [multiple] products — none of these are accounted for in those numbers. If you were to account for them, those numbers would bring some additional audience growth. Would it offset the decline in print? I don’t know.”

Meo concedes that it will be difficult for a newspaper to grow its online audience fast enough to make up the loss for print readership. “The numbers don’t work at this point,” he said.

But he also pointed out the enormous market penetration newspapers have — “more than any other media” he said. “When you look at these numbers they are pretty staggering. Just the print alone in some markets you get 67% reach. Those are big numbers.”

Below is a list of 20 newspapers measured by Scarborough comparing 2008 and 2007 numbers. A variety of markets were chosen to give a sense of directional trends. The papers are listed alphabetically.


Paper — ’08 Print Reach — ’08 Online Reach — ’08 Integrated Reach — [’07 Print Reach — ’07 Online Reach — ’07 Integrated Reach]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 48% — 18% — 54% [47% — 17% — 53%]

Baltimore Sun : 51% — 10% — 54% [55% — 10% — 58%]

The Blade, Toledo, Ohio: 53% — 7% — 55% [58% — 7% — 59%]

Buffalo (N.Y.) News: 64% — 13% — 66% [67% — 11% — 69%]

The Charlotte Observer: 44% — 12% — 47% [47% — 8% — 50%]

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch: 58% — 11% — 60% [61% — 8% — 62%]

The Des Moines (Iowa) Register: 70% — 11% — 71% [71% — 10% — 73%]

Fresno (Calif.) Bee: 48% — 6% — 49% [54% — 4% — 55%]

Houston Chronicle: 51% — 12% — 55% [55% — 10% — 57%]

The Indianapolis Star: 51% — 13% — 53% [51% — 12% — 54%]

Kansas City Star: 58% — 12% — 61% [60% — 10% — 63%]

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 62% — 16% — 65% [66% — 14% — 68%]

Nashville Tennessean: 46% — 9% — 48% [51% — 7% — 52%]

The Oklahoman: 57% — 15% — 62% [61% — 13% — 65%]

The Oregonian, Portland: 55% — 11% — 59% [54% — 10% — 56%]

The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch: 66% — 14% — 69% [66% — 13% — 69%]

Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle: 79% — 14% — 81% [ 84% — 13% — 85%]

The San Diego-Union Tribune: 54% — 18% — 59% [57% — 16% — 61%]

The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.: 67% — 15% — 68% [67% — 14% — 70%]

The Washington Post: 61% — 22% — 66% [63% — 21% — 67%]

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