FAS-FAX: Surprises in E-Paper Circs

By: Mark Fitzgerald If you want to suss out surprises from this week's Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) FAS-FAX report, don't bother with the top-line figures, where the story line's been clear for a while -- metros are hemorrhaging while smaller papers are holding their own.

Instead, take a look at the column for "electronic editions."

Now in one sense, there's no surprise: The Wall Street Journal is the undisputed king of e-papers. Nobody's even close.

But after that, what you find is a portrait of an industry that is experimenting with electronic newspapers in dramatically different ways. Some big metro dailies, with robust Web sites and undoubted commitment to digital, sell very few electronic editions or don't bother with them at all.

On the other hand, some mid-sized dailies have outsized sales of e-papers.

To appear in the FAS-FAX, electronic editions must be paid products priced at the same bottom line as print copies, that is, at least 25% of the basic home delivery price. Electronic editions can be replicas, such as the PDFs just about everybody is introducing as online afternoon editions, or classic e-papers that more fully mimic the print reading experience, such as the Columbia Missourian's eMprint twice-weekly editions. But non-replica editions are also allowed, and need not include advertising.

It's a side stream of the newspaper business where the 218,940-circulation Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch can claim more average weekday paid electronic editions (5,704) than the 1,120,420-circulation New York Times (4,912).

Consider Boston, where the Christian Science Monitor with a total circulation of just 57,890 sells 1,901 electronic editions on an average day. The Boston Herald, nearly four times larger, reported that it averaged six during the reporting period. Not 6,000 -- six.

Print circulation size truly is no indicator of the size of electronic editions.

The Wall Street Journal is the nation's second-largest newspaper with a total circulation of 2,049,786. It reported paid average paid electronic edition sales of 336,373.

Nobody is even close. The nearest is another financial daily, the 166,669-circulation Investor's Business Daily. It sells 56,891 electronic editions on average.

But the nation's largest newspaper, USA Today -- which in latest FAS-FAX reported total circulation up more than 2% to 2,278,022 -- sold just 1,288 electronic editions on average.

That's less than half of the 4,912 paid editions reported by the East Valley Tribune in Phoenix, Ariz.

Here's the dozen newspapers that reported sales of at least 2,000 paid daily electronic editions in the latest ABC FAS-FAX:

Wall Street Journal: 336,373

Investor's Business Daily: 56,891

Orange County Register: 15,640

The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo.: 13,135

Columbus Dispatch: 5,704

New York Times: 4,912

East Valley Tribune of Phoenix, Ariz.: 4,100

The Dispatch of Moline, Ill.: 2,678

Denver Post: 2,514

Little Rock Democrat Gazette: 2,438

Minneapolis Star Tribune: 2,251

Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass.: 2091


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