Hold the line on circulation, USA Today's Curley urges p.10

By: Mark Fitzgerald Don't abandon paid circulation for readership as newspaper
benchmark, he pleads, calling circulation cuts a 'big mistake'

At a time when more and more publishers are talking up readership as a newspaper's best selling point to advertisers, USA Today's Thomas Curley is arguing that circulation must remain the paramount measure.
Curley's latest stop on a national speaking effort was the third annual America West regional operations and technology conference in Reno, where he used an address on the future of the newspaper industry to urge a back-to-the-roots campaign to grow circulation.
"In cutting so-called 'ego circulation'
. . . I think we got further from our readers," said Curley, USA Today president and publisher. "Now we are in a year that is more bad than good, with a continuous slide in circulation and a growing cloud over our industry. Letting circulation slide was a big mistake."
Emphasizing that readership is a short-term tactic that ultimately will not convince advertisers to spend their money on newspapers, Curley added in an interview after his speech, "That doesn't translate into advertising ? which is what this is all about."
He expects the Audit Bureau of Circulations to approve at its November meeting a sweeping rule change that will allow papers to report deeply discounted sales and total distribution numbers on the cover of daily newspaper circulation reports. For all of its 84 years, ABC has considered only copies sold for at least 50% of a paper's basic rate as paid circulation. The proposal has divided U.S. chain publishers, some of whom have suggested they'll quit ABC if their view does not prevail.
"It's not a matter of a couple of publishers digging in their heels," Curley said. "If ABC doesn't do it, you're going to have to go to [a readership survey] format."
An even more radical rule change ? to count all copies sold at any price as paid circulation ? is already in effect in Canada, where big dailies have been drifting away from ABC for years.
"They did it in Canada, and the last time I looked things flowed south," Curley said. "The only thing I worry about with the ABC statement change is that people will get goofy and do what we call 'country fair' promotions and abuse it."
Circulation increases should be real, he said, not "artificial."
The proposed ABC rule change, Curley told America West, "represents an enormous change and a wonderful opportunity, I think, for newspapers."
Besides providing the bedrock for advertising, circulation is indispensable to newspapers because it adds to revenue, Curley said. "A 1% gain in circulation is a $3 million gain in profits for us," Curley said, "so if we're able to keep that gain going, and at a reasonable price that justifies the additional press lines, we will do it."
?(USA Today publisher Tom Curley is bullish on paid circulation.) [Caption & Photo]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher October 3, 1998) [Caption]


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