Circulation falling at many newspapers

But Internet sites lure more readers

May 09, 2006|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Most major daily newspapers continued to lose circulation in the six-month period ending March 31, though readership of some papers is increasing because of their growing online audiences, according to industry reports released yesterday.

Average daily circulation at 770 of the nation's newspapers fell 2.6 percent for the six-month period ending March 31, about the same percentage as for the last reporting period in November, according to a report released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations and analyzed by the Newspaper Association of America.

Average daily Sunday circulation at 610 newspapers fell 3.1 percent compared to a year ago.

"The numbers are interesting," said Dante Chinni, a senior researcher at The Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Not everybody is going down, though overall the numbers just aren't good."

But the newspaper industry said that circulation numbers are becoming a less reliable indicator of readership because of new media.

NAA, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 2,000 newspapers, said one in three Internet users visited a newspaper site in the course of a month. Online readership generally is not counted in circulation figures.

"The overall audience is growing and it's growing across a broader footprint," said John Kimball, NAA chief marketing officer.

Most readers of baltimoresun.com also read the printed Sun, but about 100,000 of them only read the Internet version - and therefore aren't counted in circulation numbers, according to the newspaper.

The Sun had a 3 percent decrease in daily circulation to 236,317 and a 6.6 percent decline in Sunday circulation to 401,918.

Much of The Sun's decline was due to a drop in single-copy sales - papers sold by street vendors and at retail establishments. They decreased 11.3 percent on Sunday and 11.9 percent during the week. Home delivery sales, the largest portion of The Sun's circulation, rose 1.4 percent during the week and 2.8 percent on Sunday. The Sun also continued cutting back on "other paid" copies, those given away in promotions, by 46.9 percent during the week and 62.2 percent on Sunday, the newspaper said.

The percentage of Americans reading newspapers began to drop in the 1940s, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism; circulation continued to grow only because population grew as well.

Daily newspaper circulation began to decline in 1988, while Sunday circulation dipped in 1993. Newspapers and other traditional media now are dealing with competition from the Internet, cable television and other forms of media, as well as competition for people's time as their lives become busier.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported one of the largest drops as daily circulation fell 15.6 percent. The Washington Post was down 3.7 percent and The Boston Globe was down 8.5 percent.

A few major papers showed slight gains. They including Gannett flagship USA Today, the country's top-selling newspaper, which posted a circulation increase of .09 percent. The New York Times was up 0.5 percent, while the Chicago Tribune increased 0.4 percent in daily circulation and 0.9 percent on Sunday.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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