US Newspapers Work up Numbers to Satisfy Advertisers

07 November 2007

NEW YORK: Dress up the numbers any which way you want, but the fact is that US newspaper readership and ad revenues continue to decline. Latest Audit Bureau of Circulations data reveals a 2.6% drop in the number of daily papers bought in the six months to September 30.

It does not make happy reading for publishers, but their survival ethos now presents figures that highlight aggregated online and print readers in an attempt to allay advertiser concerns.

More than 100 major newspapers have started to report these dual measurements, based on surveys by syndicated research firm Scarborough Research, in partnership with the Newspaper Association of America.

For example: the Washington Post, which reported a 3.2% decline in average weekday circulation, had an average monthly "audience" of print and online readers of 3.09 million in the greater DC area.

Declares Washington Post president/general manager Stephen Hills: "We think we haven't done the job we should in marketing this industry."

The new marketing tactic, however, is unlikely to reassure skeptical advertisers. Comments Merle Davidson, director of media services at retailer JC Penney: "This is helpful information, but we can't just rely on readership and audience. Print circulation is still very important."

The industry can do little to disguise the uncomfortable truth that two of its three biggest daily titles shed readers in the last six months.

The Wall Street Journal's circulation fell 1.5% to 2.01 million, while the New York Times witnessed a 4.5% slide to 1.04m. Only USA Today, the nation's biggest selling title, notched a small 1% rise to 2.29m.

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