Big Circulation Losers Look on the Bright Side

By: Joe Strupp Newspapers suffering some of the worst circulation declines in Monday's Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX report sought to put a positive spin on their reductions Tuesday, with stories that did everything from dismiss the cutbacks to praise them as positive news.

USA Today, which noticeably lost its top spot as the highest circulation daily with a 17% circulation decline, gave The Wall Street Journal the first-place slot. On Monday, the national newspaper posted an Associated Press story that stated: "USA TODAY saw its worst decline ever ... the newspaper has blamed reductions in travel for much of the circulation shortfall, because many of its single-copy sales come in airports and hotels."

But a USA Today release late Monday claimed the paper still held a top spot of sorts, stating: "USA Today remains number one in total daily print circulation in the United States." It added that "USA Today's print circulation is nearly 275,000 copies per day larger than its closest competitor, The Wall Street Journal, and more than 1,000,000 copies per day larger than The New York Times."

Two of Hearst's biggest circulation losers in Monday's report, the San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle, tried to spin their double-digit drops Tuesday with stories that proclaimed the print reductions as no big problem.

It is true, as E&P has noted previously, that many papers are seeing increased revenue from circulation despite a loss in readers due to raising prices and efficiencies.

The San Francisco daily, which saw a 25.82% decrease in circulation, published a story in which it stated "that reshaping the newspaper's business model is paying off financially even though, as anticipated, it has resulted in a sharp decline in circulation."

The story had Publisher Frank Vega stressing "The Chronicle is now turning a profit some weeks after years of significant financial losses, including more than $50 million last year.

"We feel the readers have to make a conscious decision about the paper," he added in the story. "And we're pleased that we still have the healthiest audience for any media outlet in the Bay Area."

At the Houston Chronicle, meanwhile, a report on the circulation decline (it fell 14.24%) stated the drop was due to the paper focusing on its core audience.

"Houston Chronicle Publisher and President Jack Sweeney attributed the print declines to the company's strategy of reducing delivery to a 90-mile radius of downtown Houston and to increasing the price of the newspaper," the story said. Added Sweeney, "As we face today's economic realities, we've concentrated our growth programs where our advertisers need them the most."

The Dallas Morning News, meanwhile, offered its 22% circulation drop as the result of a "strategic shift that includes increased prices for subscriptions and for single-copy sales, executives said."

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., which saw one of the largest circulation decreases at 22.22%, did not appear to report on the reduction. Newspaper executives also did not return E&P's calls seeking comment.


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