'Good News': Newspaper Circ Shrinks 'Just 8.7%'; Fair/Balanced WSJ Only Top-25 Gainer

ABCauditButton0410Update: The well-publicized announcement that Editor & Publisher was going to "cease operations" last December and that was stated as a given in the original version of this post was apparently premature, as it's still there on the web. E&P is also covering the circulation news (daily; Sunday; HT to a BizzyBlog commenter).

Advertising Age (AA) had the unenviable task (given that it's supposed to stay on its vendors' and customers' good sides) of figuring out a way to cast yet another dreadful newspaper circulation report in a non-negative light. The educated guess here is that most newspaper execs are not going to be wearing the button pictured at the top right very frequently during the foreseeable future.

Here are the figures cited by AA as overall newspaper circulation declines during the past five six-month ABC reporting periods (percentages represent declines from the same six-month period of the previous year) --

March 31, 2010: - 8.7% daily, -6.5% Sunday
September 30, 2009: -10.6% daily, -7.5% Sunday
March 31, 2009: - 7.1% daily, -5.4% Sunday
September 30, 2008: -4.6% daily, -4.9% Sunday
March 31, 2008: - 3.6% daily, -4.6% Sunday

Given the results, here is AA's headline, sub-headline, and "hey, it's not really that bad" first sentence:

Newspapers' Paid Circulation Losses Shrink
Industry Finally Reverses Trend Toward Bigger and Bigger Declines

Newspapers' circulation losses have stopped growing, but the industry still has a ways to go before it finds a new equilibrium.

(That sort of reminds me of the "we're not losing jobs quite so fast" mantra we were hearing from the Obama folks until last month.)

The reality is that the boat is still sinking quickly, just not quite as quickly as six months ago.

The AA story includes a list of circulation for the top 25 daily and Sunday papers. There was serious double-digit or near double-digit carnage in daily circulation at these publications during the most recent reporting period:

2. USA Today, -13.6%
4. Los Angeles Times, -14.7%
5. Washington Post, -13.1%
6. New York Daily News, -11.3%
9. Chicago Tribune, -9.8%
10. Houston Chronicle, -13.8%
12. Arizona Republic, -9.9%
17. Chicago Sun-Times, -13.9%
21. Dallas Morning News, -21.5%
22. Detroit Free Press, -13.3%
24. San Francisco Chronicle, -22.7%
25. Newark Star-Ledger, -17.8%

The most serious Sunday circulation declines were at the Dallas Morning News (-21.5%), the Boston Globe (-18.8%), and the Atlanta Journal Constitution (-14.0%).

Speaking of the Globe and Journal Constitution: The Globe dropped off of the top 25 daily list, meaning that its circulation is under 236,000. Four years ago, it was the 14th largest daily in the US, with a circulation of almost 400,000. The Journal Constitution fell from the top 25 six months ago, and has stayed off. Four years ago, it was at #15, and its circ was over 360,000.

The San Francisco Chronicle probably has the worst long-term result of any major newspaper. Five years ago, its circulation of 469,000 was almost double what it is now (241,000).

The daily circ drop at the New York Times wasn't as steep (-8.5%) as at many other papers, but the Times lost more daily paid circulation (almost 88,000) than any publication except USA Today (-287,000) and the LA Times (-107,000). Sunday circulation at the New York Times dropped by 5.2%, or about 75,000.

They'll all deny that bias has anything to do with it. But if that's the case, how does one explain away the fact that the only daily paper in the top 25 to eke out a gain was the (usually) fair and balanced Wall Street Journal?

A year ago, the Journal and USA Today were running almost neck-and-neck. Now the Journal's paid circulation exceeds USAT's by over 265,000.

Then there's the New York Post, the other Rupert Murdoch-controlled paper in Gotham. The Post's circulation bleed was the lowest of any paper in the top 15 except the Journal, and the New York Daily News is ahead of it by only about 10,000 (vs. about 44,000 a year ago). It could be ahead of the "venerable" Washington Post in a year if current trends continue, and has an outside shot of catching the cratering LA Times.

Now Murdoch is coming after the New York Times with a New York City Metro edition of the Wall Street Journal. A brief Associated Press item that includes the Times's childish reaction to the Journal's first day of Metro publication is here. This should be fun to watch.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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