Doldrums In Circulation p.9

By: Mark Fitzgerald PERHAPS THE BEST way to look at the latest FAS-FAX figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation is as a collection of individual coping strategies.
It was a reporting period in which the Rocky Mountain News could lose an average 14,172 daily papers sold over the past year and fall off the top 25 list entirely ? yet credibly claim a circulation victory.
It was a FAS-FAX in which the Los Angeles Times ? busy paring down its circulation over the past two years ? could see an average 21,806-copy daily circulation gain.
And it was a reporting period in which the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News could claim another step towards normality as they filed their first publisher's statements in more than a year ? even though their circulations are so battered by a 16-month strike, and the long circulation slump that followed their joint operating agreement, that combined they now sell fewer papers than the Free Press alone did five years ago.
For the eighth straight reporting period, daily circulations of most of America's biggest newspapers were down. This time, however, 11 of the top 25 papers could claim circulation gains.
This latest FAS-FAX ? covering the six months ended Sept. 30, 1996 ? also reinforced another trend that has become more and more evident in the 1990s: Sundays are no longer the circulation engines they were when daily circulations began their long fade in the 1970s.
Of the nation's 25 biggest Sunday papers, only three could claim a year-over-year circulation gain ? and the biggest of the gains was a modest 6,784 increase recorded by Newsday on Long Island, N.Y.
For most newspapers, though, the story of this latest FAS-FAX is how their marketing strategies fared against these general trends over the past year.
No market was more closely watched than Denver.
Last March, Scripps Howard's Rocky Mountain News ? Denver's daily circulation leader for the better part of two decades ? launched its audacious "Front Range Plus" strategy of cutting so-called out-state Colorado circulation and concentrating distribution in the six-county Denver metropolitan area and some of the fast-growing exurbs along I-70.
The News cut distribution outside the Front Range "because it didn't pay for itself or generally benefit advertisers targeting the $23.4 billion spent annually in the greater Denver area," the newspaper said in explaining its strategy.
Six months later, "the Rocky," as locals call it, say Front Range Plus has paid off big.
Daily circulation in the six counties averages 296,325 in the six months ended Sept. 30, compared to 282,679 in the same period in 1995. Sunday circulation was 375,661, up from 365,465.
The rival Denver Post's metro circulation trailed the Rocky's and posted an average 250,449 weekdays, 329,203 Sundays.
"We promised our advertisers that our concentrated efforts would result in a superior editorial product and increased circulation in areas most beneficial for their advertising messages," News publisher Larry Strutton said. "Not only did we deliver on both counts, we've done it for the second reporting period in a row. The Rocky Mountain News clearly has the momentum and dominance in the six-county Denver metro area."
But the report also gives William Dean Singleton's Denver Post a big story to tell ? and its own claim on what George Bush used to call "the Big Mo." After years of marketing its Sunday product with relentless promotions and occasional cable TV tie-ins, the Post 18 months ago went back on top in Sunday circulation and has held the lead ever since.
Now with the Rocky's abandonment of out-state Colorado, the Post for the first time in 17 years leads in both daily and Sunday circulation. (Both papers measure average circulation Monday through Saturday.)
"Denver has two papers, but Colorado only has one," crows the Post's advertising campaign in the wake of these latest ABC numbers.
Both newspapers were so eager to put their own spin on the latest results that they released the numbers a full two weeks before the yellow FAS-FAX books were mailed to ABC members.

Newsday Redux
Also rushing to get out the news of its latest publisher's statement was Newsday ? and for much the same reason as the Denver papers.
A year ago, Newsday's daily circulation took a dive of more than 150,000 copies because of the closing of New York Newsday. This autumn's FAS-FAX, however, contained much better news: Circulation was up 8,254 daily to 564,754 and up 6,784 to 656,895 on Sundays. (Newsday's daily circulation is not directly comparable because over the year the tabloid changed its publishing cycle from all-day to morning.)
"We are committed to circulation growth, and we are delighted to see that our efforts are paying off," publisher Raymond A. Jansen said. He was particularly heartened by daily growth in Queens, where the Melville-based paper was strongest before its failed foray into Manhattan and New York City's other boroughs.
New York City's big circulation leader, the New York Times, was off modestly weekdays and Sundays. Including its national edition, daily Times circulation was down 10,421 to 1,071,120. With a circulation of 1,652,8000 ? down an average 14,982 copies over the year ? the Times remained the nation's biggest Sunday paper.
However, if USA Today's Friday edition, with a shelf life of 72 hours, were considered a Sunday paper, it would be the leader by far. In this FAS-FAX, the Nation's Newspaper reported it was up an average 72,689 on Fridays to 2,008,940.
In the New York City tabloid war, the Daily News remained on top, adding an average 3,655 for a circulation of 734,277. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post was up 15,936 to 429,642. The Post's fledgling Sunday edition reported a first-time circulation of 291,497, far behind the Sunday News, which dropped an average 89,644 copies to 888,759.

Top 10 Tab
Another tabloid, the Chicago Sun-Times, had reason to be pleased with its daily circulation results. It held 10th place among the nation's biggest papers with a daily circulation of 496,030, up 7,625. It was the Sun-Times' second consecutive reporting period to show a daily gain.
Sunday continues to be a problem, however. The latest report shows the Sunday Sun-Times in 25th place with 442,905 circulation, down 19,898 from the year-ago period.
On the other side of Michigan Avenue, the market-leading Chicago Tribune reported modest losses weekdays and Sundays. Daily circulation was reported at 680,535, off an average 3,831 copies. On Sundays, the Tribune remains the only paper between the coasts with more than 1 million circulation, but the total slipped an average 37,186 to 1,046,777.
The Daily Herald ? the Arlington Heights, Ill.-based paper that has been the Chicago area's fastest-growing paper in recent years ? showed only modest growth this period. Daily circulation was up an average 1,030 to 129,202, while Sunday circulation grew 737 copies to 126,586.

Detroit Uptick
Just getting into the FAS-FAX was a kind of victory for the jointly-produced Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. The strike, begun in July 1995 by six unions representing about 2,000 workers, had thrown circulation into such chaos that ABC did not produce an audit report for the papers until last September 1996.
But this FAS-FAX also had some faint good news, showing circulation has grown modestly since that report, which covered the three-month period ended March 31. Daily circulation of the morning Free Press increased from 351,438 in the March period to 363,385 in this FAS-FAX. Over the same period, circulation of the evening News also increased, from 225,260 to 237,917.
The combined News and Free Press on Sunday increased from 769,594 to 789,666.
However, the FAS-FAX also served as a reminder of how far the papers have to go: For the 12 months ended March 1995, a few months before the strike, daily circulation of the Free Press was 537,353, 351,366 for the News. Sunday circulation then was 1,113,773.

After paring back so-called "ego circulation" in far-flung areas, the Los Angeles Times apparently had a little change of heart and a few months ago cut the newsstand price in half to a quarter. The cut spiked daily circulation, which gained 21,806 to 1,029,073.
The Sunday paper, without a price cut, was off an average 60,232 copies to 1,349,889.
America's two biggest national papers showed continued strength. The Wall Street Journal, still No. 1, gained 20,392 copies over the year-ago period to 1,783,532.
USA Today, measured Monday through Thursday, was up 68,018 copies to 1,591,629. The paper credited interest in the Olympics for some of the gain.
That wasn't the case in Atlanta. In the rather cruel words of Chicago sportswriter Bob Verdi, following the collapse of the Atlanta Braves in the professional baseball championship, Atlanta became the first city in one year "to blow both a World Series and an Olympics."
ABC reported the Atlanta Constitution and the Sunday Atlanta Journal and Constitution received no big bounce from the Summer Games. Daily circulation was up 2,843 to 308,301 for the Constitution, while the combined Sunday paper was off 5,041 to 687,397.
?(The Denver papers rushed to trumpet their good circulation news in ads even before ABC released its latest FAS-FAX) [Photo & Cpation]

DATE: Sat 07-Dec-1996
PUBLICATION: Editor & Publisher
CATEGORY: Corrections
AUTHOR: Editorial Staff


corrections ABC FAS-FAX circulation reports


Corrections p.7

BECAUSE OF A production error, daily circulation gains at the Los Angeles Times and Portland Oregonian, and a Sunday circulation increase at the Houston Chronicle were presented as declines in charts (Nov. 9, p. 10) showing circulations of the 25 biggest daily and Sunday newspapers, as reported in the Audit Bureau of Circulations' latest FAS-FAX report of publishers' statements.
On Sundays, the Houston Chronicle showed an increase of 4,393 copies, compared with the same period last year. Based on the figure provided by ABC, the Los Angeles Times showed an average daily circulation increase of 21,806 copies, compared with the year-ago period.
However, Times communications director Laura L. Morgan said the 1995 daily circulation total was incorrect. Comparing the latest average daily circulation with the correct figure for the six months ended Sept. 30, 1995, it shows an average increase of 16,884, Morgan said.
The Oregonian's daily circulation actually increased by 4,931.


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