Newspaper Circulation Declines Sharply

The unrelenting drumbeat of bad news for newspapers continued Monday with the release of the latest circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, covering the six-month period from March to September 2007. The news was so bad that the Newspaper Association of America has deigned not to tally the numbers for an overall circulation figure, but a quick glance at the big and medium-sized players tells the story.

In Sunday circulation, The New York Times fell 8% to 1,500,394; the Washington Post fell 4% to 894,428; the Chicago Tribune fell 2% to 917,868; and the Los Angeles Times fell 5% to 1,112,165. These were all matched by slightly smaller declines in weekday circulation as well. The Wall Street Journal, predominantly a weekday paper, saw weekday circulation slip about 1% to 1,929,574.

Among mid-sized city papers, the news was sometimes even worse. Although overall statistics are again unavailable, a random survey of Sunday circulations gives an idea of the total decline. The Boston Globe fell 6.5% to 548,906; the Atlanta Journal Constitution fell 9% to 475,988; the Baltimore Sun fell 4% to 364,827; the Miami Herald tumbled 13% to 307,431; the Denver Post/Rocky Mountain News fell 14% to 600,229; the Dallas Morning News fell 8% to 523,313; and the Phoenix Republic fell 5% to 480,585.



Again, these declines were all matched by slumps in weekday circulation as well--and reflect a broader trend affecting practically every mid-sized city daily newspaper, including many not listed here.

If there was any good news in the ABC report, it was only relative: newspapers that suffered the steepest declines in previous years seem to have bottomed out, posting smaller losses than before. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, saw Sunday circulation slip "just" 1% to 430,115.

The slump made for some amusing ironies as newspaper publishers jockeyed for position in a deflating market. Continuing their long rivalry, the New York Daily News took a swipe at the New York Post, noting that its own daily circulation now surpasses the Post. But the News didn't mention that both newspapers' daily and Sunday circulations declined, with the Daily News simply falling a little less quickly. The Daily News' circulation dropped 7% on Sunday to 726,305, and 2% on weekdays, to 681,415. Meanwhile, the Post's Sunday circulation dipped 6% to 405,486, and its weekday circulation dropped 5% to 667,119.

For the first time, the ABC also included a "total audience" figure that takes into consideration readers of both digital and print versions. The total audience figure is based on ABC's print figures and single-source data obtained though surveys by Scarborough. By combining these sources of information, ABC aims to eliminate duplicate readers, presenting a figure without overlap between print and online audiences. A total of 112 newspapers participated fully in the "total audience" metric, with another 94 opting for a partial report.

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