While U.S. Circ Stalls, Asia Leads Brisk Global Sales

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

U.S. newspaper publishers may be reeling from last month’s abysmal circulation results, but around the world, newspapers are selling in record numbers.

Last year, daily newspaper circulation jumped 2.1% worldwide to a new record of 395 million copies daily, the World Association of Newspapers reported at its 58th World Congress meeting, which ends Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea.

Over the last five years, worldwide daily circulation is up 4.6%, WAN said.

Newspapers last year began to grow in many mature markets as well as in the developing world, WAN noted.

“It has been an extraordinarily positive 12 months for the global newspaper industry,” said Timothy Balding, director general of the Paris-based association.

“We have come to expect big circulation gains in developing countries, but it has been a very long time since we saw such a revival in so many mature markets,” he added in the statement. “Newspapers are clearly undergoing a renaissance through new products, new formats, new titles, new editorial approaches, better distribution, and better marketing.”

One reason circulation is up may be that there are simply more newspapers. WAN said the total number of daily titles went up 2% in 2004 and has increased 4.6% since 2000.

On an average day around the globe, more than 395 million people buy a newspaper, up from 374 million in 1999. WAN estimates readership now averages more than one billion people each day.

Three-quarters of the world’s 100 biggest dailies are now published in Asia, WAN noted. The biggest paper is Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan with 14,067,000 copies daily, but China has now supplanted Japan as the country with the most newspapers on the top 100 list.

China, where 93.5 million copies are sold every day, is the largest newspaper market, WAN said, followed by India, with 78.8 million copies daily; Japan, with 70.4 million; the United States, with 55.6 million; and Germany, with 22.1 million. But while the Asian markets grew, circulation in the western nations were both down, the association noted.

According to WAN, U.S. daily circulation fell 1% in 2004 and is down 2.06% over the past five years.

WAN’s report also confirms that the free paper and the tabloidization of broadsheets are worldwide phenomena. In Spain, it noted, free papers now represent fully 40% of the newspaper market. In Italy, it’s 29%, and in Denmark 27%. WAN said 56 dailies converted from broadsheet to a compact format in 2004, which it said was a record.

Around the world, 36% of newspapers are now compacts.

With worldwide circulation gains came an advertising rebound. WAN said dailies had their best advertising performance in four years, increasing revenue 5.3% in 2004.

But newspapers continued to lose ad share during 2004, WAN added. Newspaper share of the world ad market slipped to 30.1% from 30.5% in 2003. Newspaper is the globe’s second-largest advertising medium, behind television, according to WAN.

The WAN report is full of little nuggets about circulation.

“The Norwegians and the Japanese remain the world?s greatest newspaper buyers with, respectively, 651 and 644 sales per thousand population each day,” the WAN report said.

At the opposite end of the scale is Bolivia, where only 5% of Bolivians buy a newspaper even occasionally.

WAN notes that in some Third World countries, “the press” does not necessarily mean a printing press — even among newspapers. There is no printing press at all in Equatorial Guinea, for instance. Newspapers there are photocopied, WAN said. Similarly, most dailies in Mozambique are distributed by fax.

And then there is Uzbekistan, where, by government decree, there is no news in newspapers. “Private newspapers are allowed to publish advertising, horoscopes and other features — but no news,” the report says.

The full 700-page report — World Press Trends 2005 — is available by contacting WAN at us@wan.asso.fr.

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