Circulation falls again at most big newspapers

Decline averages nearly 3%

Sun daily figure drops 4.5%

October 31, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

Circulation figures at most major urban newspapers, including The Sun, continued falling over the past year, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released yesterday that showed a print media industry beset by competition from the Internet and new forms of technology.

Daily circulation dropped an average 2.8 percent at the 770 newspapers that reported numbers for the six-month period that ended on Sept. 30 compared with the corresponding period last year. Circulation at 619 Sunday papers was down 3.4 percent.

Among the few papers to announce good news was the New York Post, which has been trying to overtake its bitter rival, the New York Daily News, for years and finally did so. The splashy tabloid, which specializes in crime and celebrity news, vaulted over both the News and The Washington Post to become the nation's fifth-largest newspaper. Its daily circulation was up 5.1 percent, for a total of 704,011 copies.

Most other papers saw declines - in some cases, big ones. Among the big-city papers most affected, the Los Angeles Times - owned, like The Sun, by Chicago's Tribune Co. - saw its daily circulation drop 8 percent, to 775,766, while its Sunday editions fell 6 percent, to 1,172,005. Tribune recently replaced The Times' publisher after a dispute over staffing.

The company's Chicago Tribune was less badly hit in the new tabulations, dropping 1.7 percent in daily circulation, to 576,132, and by 1.3 percent on Sundays, to 937,907.

The Sun's daily circulation declined 4.5 percent, to 236,172, while Sunday circulation was down 9.1 percent, to 380,701.

The ABC figures include so-called "other-paid" circulation, meaning copies bought in bulk, mostly as part of advertising promotions, a category that The Sun and other papers have been reducing because it is not valued highly by advertisers. On Sundays alone, The Sun has cut such circulation by nearly 70 percent, or more than 14,000 papers, said Tim Thomas, vice president for marketing.

Rival not a factor

Thomas said the launch in April of The Examiner, a free competing newspaper whose circulation is not audited by ABC, appears to have had "basically no impact" on The Sun's numbers. The Sun's daily circulation has remained steady since The Examiner began publishing, the ABC figures show. The Examiner does not publish a Sunday edition.

Thomas said total readership of The Sun and other newspapers has increased when online readers are taken into account. He said the combined readership of The Sun and is up by almost 10,000 readers over the 12-month period that ended in February 2006, for an average weekly audience of almost 1.3 million. The Sun reported last week that a group of Baltimore business leaders, headed by former Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, would try to buy the paper from Tribune, which owns 11 newspapers and is studying whether to sell the company or some of its properties.

The new circulation numbers are a sobering echo of the newspaper's industry's troubles. The country's largest circulation daily, USA Today, dropped 1.3 percent, to 2,269,509, while its runner-up, The Wall Street Journal, was down 1.9 percent, to 2,043,235, on weekdays, and 6.7 percent, to 1,945,830, in its weekend edition.

The third-largest paper, The New York Times, lost 3.5 percent daily and Sunday. The Washington Post saw daily circulation dip 3.3 percent and Sunday 3.6 percent.

`Dramatic numbers'

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research organization that evaluates the performance of the press, said that while declines in newspaper circulation began as far back as 1990, they were generally under 1 percent a year. In 2004, the overall drop grew to about 2 percent.

"So now you're seeing some pretty dramatic numbers," Rosenstiel said. "On its face, 3 percent is not a huge number, but if each year the newspaper business loses 3 percent of its circulation, it doesn't take very long for this to become critical."

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