Newspaper Circs: Another Serious Drop; NYT's Small Decline a Short-Term Obama Strategy Vindication

NYThistoryObama0109

From Editor & Publisher yesterday (bold is mine):

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released this morning the spring figures for the six months ending March 31, 2009, showing that the largest metros continue to shed daily and Sunday circulation -- now at a record rate.

According to ABC, for 395 newspapers reporting this spring, daily circulation fell 7% to 34,439,713 copies, compared with the same March period in 2008. On Sunday, for 557 newspapers, circulation was down 5.3% to 42,082,707. These averages do not include 84 newspapers with circulations below 50,000 due to a change in publishing frequency.

Below is a chart showing the specifics for the top 25, including percentage losses for the past four years and during the past year (current year source: Editor & Publisher):

NewspaperCirc033105to033109

Until this year, there were three notable exceptions to the downward trend: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post. I stated during the past few years, and still believe it to be the case, that these three publications were doing better than their counterparts because they tended to play the news relatively straight -- and in the Journal's case, as its late opinion page editor Robert Bartley used to say, it is still the only newspaper people buy specifically to read the editorials.

Clearly, the New York Post has succumbed to print news's general malaise in the past year. Still, in past four years, its 13.2% decline makes its performance the seventh-best among the top 25 papers, and its decline is less than half of five of them (Dallas Morning News, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

It's probably safe to say that current economic conditions have moved many print readers to get their news online at a faster rate than in previous years. In fact, it may be fair to say that a print newspaper, like the morning cappuccino, has officially turned the corner and became a tough-times luxury instead of a routine indulgence. In New York, especially given that the Daily News also declined steeply, it's likely that Gotham's job losses and the state's recent round of tax increases on seemingly anything and everything have accelerated the online conversion even further.

That leaves the New York Times, which, for all its troubles, might end up being the last newspaper standing -- especially if it puts its awfully-performing Boston Globe property to sleep.

The Times's decline in the past year was relatively small because it's positioned as a national newspaper; it's actually New York's third newspaper in circulation inside the city. Its shameless shilling for President Barack Obama, up to and including its ads as seen above, has thus far worked relatively well -- or less poorly than almost everyone else -- as a business strategy. It remains to be seen if selling out what little remained of its journalistic integrity makes the Old Gray Lady viable in the long run.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.