Newspaper Circs Fall, Web Numbers Rise

NEW YORK The spring FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations shows that paid newspaper circulation is on a troubling decline.

It was hoped that the six-month period ending March 2006 would prove that the industry plugged the dam, but the Newspaper Association of America’s semi-annual circ analysis said that daily circulation fell 2.5 percent—one of the industry’s largest recorded drops.

The result was the same for the six-month period ending September 2005, during which daily circulation dropped 2.6 percent. In March 2005, which marked the first full period newspapers turned in numbers in the wake of several circulation misstatements, daily circ fell 1.9 percent.

The downward trend, to some extent, defies geography. The papers that turned in the best results ran the spectrum—the big nationals and the smallest dailies held steady, while major metros with circulations between 250,000 and 500,000 were the most bloodied. According to the NAA, only 182 out of the reporting 770 papers experienced gains.

NAA vice president of circulation John Murray explained that smaller markets are more stable while the larger cities have transient populations.

Publishers making shrewd economic decisions, and a renewed interest in individually paid copies, he said, brought about the declines. Indeed, many of the larger chains emphasized cuts in circulation considered less valuable by advertisers. “You see individual newspapers making deliberate decisions,” Murray said.

The cost of selling a subscription has also gone up, and publishers are focusing on holding on to people with longer-term subscriptions rather than goosing FAS-FAX numbers with readers who might flee.

While paid-circulation numbers have been sinking, the NAA did release some good news today: More people are flocking to newspaper Web sites. Thirty-seven percent of all online users during Q1 visited a newspaper Web site, an 8 percent increase from the same period a year ago.

“I would argue [the industry] is extremely healthy,” said John Kimball, NAA senior vice president and CMO. “Clearly the business is concerned about declines in net paid circulation. I’m just saying the business is extremely healthy—a lot of work is being done with robust and better Web sites with the idea of a large future audience.”