Surprise! Newspaper Circulation Falls Again

Newspaper circulations continued their long decline in the middle of 2008, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations' latest report, covering the six-month period from March-September 2008. In comparison to the same period in 2007, a survey of the 100 largest U.S. papers revealed an average decline in Sunday circulation of 5%, while weekday circulation fell 4.5%. The ABC no longer releases aggregate figures for all the nation's newspapers.

As in previous years, the biggest losers were large metropolitan daily newspapers, which have been undercut by Internet competition. Virtually alone among the big newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today held their own with circulation figures that were basically flat from 2007-2008; The Wall Street Journal's weekday circulation held steady at about 2,011,999, as did USA Today at about 2,293,310. For a summary of results from other leading newspapers, see the list following this article.

For the most part, big metro dailies are suffering because their traditional focus--big national and international stories--has been commoditized by the Web, where substantively similar stories can usually be found at a number of different sites.

The commoditization of national and international news on the Web is reflected in the recent exodus of members from the Associated Press. Facing severe financial challenges, some newspaper publishers believe that AP's expensive new rate structure is not worthwhile--especially when dozens, if not hundreds, of other news providers will have the same stories posted on their own sites.

In recent weeks, Tribune has turned its back on AP, giving the required two years' notice to withdraw from the organization, and E.W. Scripps is said to be considering a similar move. The Minneapolis Star Tribune and some other smaller papers have also given notice. McClatchy, however, has opted to stay with the AP.

The litany of poor financial performances from newspaper publishers has continued in the third quarter, with negative advertising revenue results at the New York Times Co. (down 14.4%), Gannett (17.6%), and McClatchy (19%). In addition to plummeting print revenues, these companies are faced with relatively anemic growth in online revenues. In the first half of the year, NYTCO's online revenues grew 12%, Gannett 6%, and McClatchy 11.5%, compared to an overall Internet growth rate of 15%.

Following are the latest circulation figures for some of the nation's larger newspapers, per the ABC.

At the top of the list, New Jersey's troubled Star Ledger, based in Newark, saw Sunday circulation plunge 14.7% to 455,699, as weekday circulation plummeted 10.5% to 316,280.

The New York Times' Sunday circulation fell 4.2% to 1,438,585, and its daily circulation declined 3.6% to 1,000,665. At the New York Daily News, Sunday and weekday circulation both slipped 7.2% to 674,104 and 632,595, respectively.

This was no cause for rejoicing at its arch-rival, the New York Post, where Sunday circulation fell 4.8% to 386,105, and weekday circulation slid 6.3% to 625,421.

The Chicago Tribune's Sunday circulation fell 5.8% to 864,845, as weekday circulation tumbled 7.8% to 516,032.

The Boston Globe's Sunday circulation tumbled 8.1% to 503,659, while weekday circulation plummeted 10.2% to 323,983.

At the Washington Post, Sunday circulation fell 3.2% to 866,057, while weekday circulation slipped 2% to 622,714.

At the Los Angeles Times, Sunday and weekday circulation both fell 5% to 1,055,076 and 739,147, respectively.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday circulation fell 7.5% to 398,116, while weekday circulation fell 7.1% to 339,430.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune saw Sunday circulation plummet 8.7% to 520,828, as weekday circulation slid 4.3% to 322,360.

The Baltimore Sun's Sunday circulation slipped 3.9% to 350,640, while weekday circulation fell 6% to 218,923.

The Detroit Free Press saw Sunday circulation fall 3.8% to 605,369, while weekday circulation tumbled 8% to 476,523.

At the Rocky Mountain News-Denver Post, Sunday circulation fell 9.1% to 545,442, as weekday circ slipped 6.6% to 420,867.

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