Newspaper circulation continues to tank

The Audit Bureau of Circulation has released circulation figures on the nation’s top twenty newspapers, and the overall news isn’t good.

ABC is an independent organization which measures paid circulation of participating newspapers and magazines. They are necessary to verify to advertisers that the numbers being quoted are accurate. The Associated Press list of all twenty newspapers’ performances over the last year shows the top two publications, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, with very slight gains over the previous year. The rest are slipping.

Some prominent names and their numbers: The New York Times, down 3.9% (and Sunday is slipping even faster, by an astonishing 9%). The LA Times, down 5.1%. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, down 8.5%. The Boston Globe, off 8.3%. Dallas Morning News, down 10.6%. Check out the rest at the link above.

It should be noted that this is a year-to-year comparison with the previous period, also a wretched performance in a series of bad years. Also, ABC has softened the rules so much in recent years that their numbers may no longer be very convincing to advertisers. For instance, 20 years ago the number of discounted subscriptions and the amounts of the discounts were controlled: if a newspaper exceeded the limits, the extra sales were not counted. This has been much relaxed, as has the policy for bulk sales, such as to hotels and schools.

The way dealer copies (those sold at newsstands and in stores) are counted has also been liberalized. The upshot of these changes was to make it easier for the industry to count the papers they send out as “paid circulation,” which was typically the only number which interested advertisers. The continued pathetic performance under revised standards indicates that newspapers are bleeding readers.

As someone who spent the better part of his working life in the newspaper business, I find this trend disheartening, but I recognize it is in large part a self-inflicted wound.

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