Newspaper Circulation Holds Steady

By: Lisa Singhania, AP Business Writer

(AP) The average circulation of U.S. newspapers held steady in the last half-year despite the economic downturn and concerns over declining readership. The nation’s largest publications recorded a slight increase, while smaller ones had some falloff.

Overall, the average daily paid circulation for the 807 newspapers reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six months ending Sept. 30 fell 0.3% from the same period a year ago, according to an analysis of the data by the Newspaper Association of America. Sunday circulation dropped 0.4%.

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“The circulation trends look pretty close to flat, which is fine. It’s not terribly different from the long-term trend, which is one of a slight decline every year for the last 20 years,” said Barton Crockett, publishing analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. “A lot of people are concerned that readers are giving up the newspaper habit and we don’t see that in these numbers.”

Newspaper circulation has been losing ground for years, a reflection of increased competition from cable television, the Internet, and other media outlets. This year, many newspapers faced the added challenge of a weak economy that forced them to cut back and, in some cases, reduce staffs. Advertising pages and revenues in some newspapers also decreased.

“Newspapers have had to cut their costs, and to some extent, circulation is a function of how much promotion and other special activities you put into it,” said NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm.

There were notable increases at some papers, and reminders of how competitive the newspaper business remains.

The New York Post‘s weekday circulation jumped 10.5% to 590,061, according to the ABC figures — moving it ahead of nearby Newsday in Melville, N.Y., which reported 578,809 circulation, an increase of 0.3%. The Post lowered its single-issue price in September 2000 to 25 cents, much less than other New York papers, but Publisher Lachlan Murdoch said the newest gains reflect other changes.

“Two elements are improved: the editorial content and physical feel and display of the paper,” he said. “We’re attracting readers not only from the Daily News, but from other newspapers. Hopefully, people who don’t read newspapers now are coming into our paper.”

The Post was the third-biggest paper in New York, behind The New York Times and the Daily News.

USA Today remained the largest daily with circulation of 2,230,899, followed by The Wall Street Journal at 1,800,607 and The New York Times at 1,113,000. They were the only three above 1 million and were followed by the Los Angeles Times at 965,633, The Washington Post at 746,724, the New York Daily News at 715,070, and the Chicago Tribune at 613,429.

The list had one new addition: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It replaced The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, which reported a 1% increase in circulation to 363,750 for Monday through Saturday, the only figures available.

The Audit Bureau’s circulation reports have only the average numbers for the six-month period, which began in April. The bureau doesn’t break out circulation data by week or month.

According to the NAA analysis, the 807 reporting dailies had a total circulation of 48,570,580 on Sept. 30, 2002, compared with 48,727,047 for the same period a year earlier. The 630 reporting Sunday papers had total circulation of 53,389,519, down from 53,598,459 a year ago.

The largest dailies, with circulation over 500,000, rose 0.3%. Smaller papers fell, however. Those with circulations between 100,000-499,999 lost 0.6%; 50,000-99,999 lost 0.1%; 25,000-49,999 slid 0.5 percent; and under 25,000 fell 0.6%.

On Sundays, the big papers reported no statistical gain or loss, while smaller papers retreated. Those with circulation of 250,000-499,999 were down 0.4%; 100,000-249,999 fell 0.6%; 50,000-99,999 slipped 0.8%; 25,000-49,999 fell 0.1%; and papers under 25,000 lost 0.6%.

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