US Newspapers Face Circulation Slide

02 May 2007

SCHAUMBURG, Illinois: There was further uncomfortable reading for US newspaper publishers as the Audit Bureau of Circulations released its figures for the six months to the end of March. They show that average daily circulations for the 745 titles slipped 2.1% compared with the year earlier period.

The industry is already reeling from recent news that its hoped-for lifeboat, online advertising revenues, is also showing signs of running aground [WARC News: 24-Apr-07], with predicted growth of 30% revised down to the low 20s.

The biggest circulation losses hit large metropolitan papers such as Tribune Company's Newsday of Long Island, down 6.9%, and Belo's Dallas Morning News, where circulation slid 14%.

The latter has attributed this significant fall to a deliberate cut-back in its geographical distribution area and an effort, in common with other publishers, to reduce bulk circulation to airlines and hotels.

Advertisers, however, are unlikely to be appeased by these explanations and may balk at paying increased ad rates in light of falling reader numbers.

National papers fared better than their city sisters. Gannett's USA Today posted a marginal 0.23% increase to 2.28 million, while Dow Jones' Wall Street Journal edged up 0.61% to 2.06m.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, daily circulation in the US declined nearly 16% to 53.3m in 2005, from its peak in 1984. However, it has managed to find modest reassurance in the numbers - subscriber churn fell to 36.5%, down from 54.5% in 2000.

As newspaper analyst John Morton pithily put it: "Things are getting worse at a slightly lower rate."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff