Top 25 Dailies: Like Newspaper Revenue, the Decline in Circ Shows Signs of Slowing

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Fittingly, the spring Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) Fas-Fax report was released in the middle of earnings season. And so the many newspapers reporting that ad revenue was still falling, but at a slower pace, were mostly also posting circ numbers that continue to slide but not accelerate.

There were plenty of ugly numbers in Monday’s Fas-Fax, especially among the metros that seem never to run out of “”junk”” circulation to wring out. But there were signs that circ could be on its way to stabilizing.

Overall average paid daily circulation fell 8.7% year-over-year for the six months through March, ABC said. That’s an improvement on last fall’s numbers, which were down 10.6% year-over-year. Sunday was down 6.54% in this report compared to a 7.5% drop in 2009.

But at the top of the circulation charts, the big just keep getting smaller — often much smaller.

Of the top 25 dailies, only The Wall Street Journal managed to record a year-over-year gain, and at that, the 0.5% rise would in past years be described as flat.

Journal circulation is boosted by an unusually large e-edition circulation, which was reported Monday as 414,025, nearly four times more than the next big e-edition user, The Detroit Free Press which encouraged subscribers to switch to them when the paper cut home delivery to three days.

USA Today was down 13.58% in the period as the collapse in business travel that sustained its strong growth for two decades continues to take its toll on hotel sales.

Of the 21 big metros whose circ could be directly compared to the year-ago period, fully 10 fell by double-digit percentages.

Two dailies fell by more than 20%, The Dallas Morning News (down 21.47%) and the San Francisco Chronicle (down 22.68%).

There was a new kid in the top 10 as the San Jose Mercury News posted a weekday circulation of 516,701 by incorporating the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times as editions of the Mercury News.
Despite the signs of a moderating circulation picture, industry figures continued their campaign deemphasizing the sales of newspaper copies.

“”Although audited circulation data at a local level remains important to certain types of advertisers — particularly insert advertisers — bottom-line paid circulation data in an aggregated industry level does not tell the whole story about the vitality of the newspaper industry,”” Newspaper Association of America CEO John Sturm said in a statement.

ABC itself is introducing new reporting rules that will report paid circulation as just one part of data on the total audience for a print daily, new digital newspaper products such as mobile and tablets, and related publications such as commuter dailies.

And newspapers — including some that reported big declines in print paid circ — showed significant growth when print and online audiences are combined.

The Chicago Tribune, for instance, fell below 500,000 circulation in this Fas-Fax, as its paid sales dropped 9.79%. But it was among the top 25 gainers when print and online are combined. The Trib increased 9.73% to 3,599,458.

The Star Tribune, down 7.71% in the Fas-Fax, was up 6.02% in the combined print and online audience.

The complete chart of the combined audience is posted on E&P’s business-oriented Fitz & Jen blog.

Top 25 List by Daily Circulation

Newspaper Circ as of 3/31/10/ % Change

1. The Wall Street Journal 2,092,523 +0.5%
2. USA Today 1,826,622 -13.58%
3. The New York Times 951,063 -8.47%
4. Los Angeles Times616,606 -14.74%
5. Washington Post 578,482 -13.06%
6. Daily News (New York) 535,059 -11.25%
7. New York Post 525,004 -5.94%
8. San Jose Mercury News* 516,701N/A
(1/1/10 To 3/31/2010)
9. Chicago Tribune 452,145 -9.79%
10. Houston Chronicle 366,578 -13.77%
11. The Philadelphia Inquirer** 356,189N/A
12. The Arizona Republic 351,207 -9.88%
13. Newsday 334,809 -9.07%
14. The Denver Post***333,675N/A
15. Star Tribune, Minneapolis 295,438 -7.71%
16. St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times 278,888 -1.49%
17. Chicago Sun-Times 268,803 -13.88%
18. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland 267,888 -8.14%
19. The Oregonian 263,600 -1.83%
20. The Seattle Times*** 263.468N/A
21. The Dallas Morning News 260,659 -21.47%
22. Detroit Free Press 252,017 -13.31%
23. San Diego Union-Tribune 249,630-4.45%
24. San Francisco Chronicle 241,330 -22.68%
25. The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J. 236,017 -17.79%

* The Mercury News since 1/1/10 has made Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times editions of the daily.
**Philadelphia Daily News circ is now included as an edition of the Inquirer.
***In Seattle and Denver, joint operating agreement partners ceased publishing a print newspaper.

This list has been corrected. In compilng this list, ABC reversed the circulation results of the San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune.

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