American newspapers are losing circulation at a faster rate with each passing year, according to a MediaPost analysis of the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. While publishers have expressed hope that there is a natural bottom to the downward curve -- a core readership who won't forgo subscriptions -- the new ABC data suggests newspapers haven't reached it yet.
MediaPost analyzed weekday (Monday-Friday) circulation figures from the last five years for 83 of the nation's largest newspapers -- almost all with circulations over 100,000, covering national, regional and mid-sized metro dailies. The smallest newspaper measured, the Spokane Spokesman-Review, had an average weekday circulation of 80,011 in 2009; the largest -- The Wall Street Journal -- had 2,024,269.
In the latest figures, covering the six-month period ending September 2009, the 83 newspapers analyzed had a total average weekday circulation of 19,637,991 -- representing an 11.7% drop from 22,231,728 in the same period of 2008.
For the 83 titles considered, this is the biggest collective drop yet -- and the rate of decline appears to be accelerating. From 2005-2006, the group's total circ fell 3.1% from 24,795,386 to 24,035,680.
2007 saw a 4.5% drop to 22,960,032, followed by a 3.2% drop to 22,231,728 in 2008. In terms of actual numbers, the losses have totaled 759,706 in 2005-2006, 1,075,648 in 2006-2007, 728,304 in 2007-2008, and 2,593,737 in 2008-2009.
As might be expected, there were some remarkably large circulation losses at individual newspapers over the last year, especially among big metro dailies. Between September 2008 and September 2009, average weekday circulation fell 26.5% at the San Antonio Express-News, to 152,156; 25.9% at the San Francisco Chronicle, to 251,782; 23.1% at the Miami Herald, to 162,260; 23.1% at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to 211,420; 22.2% at the Dallas Morning News, to 263,810; and 22.2% at the Newark's Star-Ledger, to 246,006.
Among national papers, USA Today tumbled 17.2%, from 2,293,312 to 1,900,116, The New York Times saw total weekday circulation slip 7.3%, from 1,000,666 to 927,851, and The Washington Post slid 6.4%, from 622,714 to 582,844. On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal posted a modest 1.5% increase from 2,011,999 to 2,024,269. The New York Daily News fell 14%, from 632,595 to 544,167, while the archrival New York Post tumbled 18.7% from 625,428 to 508,042.