May 9, 2006

A Local Angle on the National Newspaper Circulation Numbers

The big news at Drudge yesterday was the Top 20 list highlighting the 2.5% decline in newspaper circulation nationwide.

15 of 20 are down, some by a lot, and the ones that are up are barely so:

Circulation for Top 20 Newspapers in USA
(link to top 50 as of March 31, 2006; September 30, 2005)

1. USA Today, 2,272,815, up 0.09 percent
2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,049,786, down 1 percent
3. The New York Times, 1,142,464, up 0.5 percent
4. Los Angeles Times, 851,832, down 5.4 percent
5. The Washington Post, 724,242, down 3.7 percent
6. New York Daily News, 708,477, down 3.7 percent
7. New York Post, 673,379, down 0.7 percent

8. Chicago Tribune, 579,079, up 0.9 percent
9. Houston Chronicle, 513,387, down 3.6 percent
10. The Arizona Republic, 438,722, down 2.1 percent
11. Newsday, Long Island, 427,771, down 2.7 percent

12. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., 398,329, up 0.9 percent
13. San Francisco Chronicle, 398,246, down 15.6 percent
14. The Boston Globe, 397,288, down 8.5 percent
15. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 365,011, down 6.7 percent
16. Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 362,964, down 2.9 percent
17. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 350,457, down 5.1 percent

18. Detroit Free Press, 345,861, up 0.04 percent
19. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, 343,163, down 1.6 percent
20. St. Petersburg Times, Florida, 323,031, down 4.4 percent

Nationwide, the trend of big papers ignoring their readership and expecting them to swallow their slanted news reports without objection continues to bring about disastrous results. In general, the worst offenders are paying the steepest price.

But here’s something interesting further down the list: Daily circulation at The Cincinnati Enquirer is UP 6.7% from 189,210 to 201,979 (see the same two links as above); Sunday’s Enquirer is up from 289,333 to 293,151. Though they sparked a little suspicion, Kirby Thornton of the Enquirer’s Marketing Deparment told me that the accompanying readership numbers, which are shown as declining during the same time, are for non-comparable full-year periods that are prior to the six-month periods presented. Thornton also told me that full-year daily circulation as of March 31, 2005 was 192,072.

Readers of the R-Rated Whistleblower will be especially taken by surprise at this; in his May 9 issue, he wrote a pretend note from the paper that said “With our circulation plummeting, please don’t ask how many people have cancelled their subscriptions ….. because of our dishonest coverage of the Ohio Second Congressional Race.” That’s a big “oops” in Blowerland.

OK, why has The Enquirer bucked the trend and done so well, outperforming the industry as whole by over 9%? The Bengals’ first playoff season in forever surely helped, and part of it also may be that the improvements made at Politics Extra (with an exception to be discussed) are carrying over into purchases of the print edition. Thornton attributed the change to a conscious decision to focus on more local coverage, and particularly noted how Northern Kentucky circulation (not presented separately) had benefitted from that change.

I’m glad he mentioned Northern Kentucky, because for all the vaunted improvements in local coverage on the Ohio side of the river (and I will concede there have been some), The Enquirer, which for a brief time here at BizzyBlog was known as The Invisibler, ignored the US Senate GOP Primary virtually up to Election Day, and as a result missed at least these newsworthy local-market stories:

  • Bill Pierce winning a “Well Qualified” rating from the Clermont County GOP leadership; Mike DeWine didn’t.
  • Hamilton County GOP totally scripting its endorsement meeting (BizzyBlog obtained and published the script, and made its presence known to the Enquirer’s political reporters); all non-incumbents were shut out. The Enquirer took the GOP’s press-release account of the meeting as gospel, and changed nothing when they were made aware of what really happened.
  • Butler County’s mysterious decision to abandon an endorsement meeting after planning and scheduling one (covered by the Plain Dealer blog!)

I would argue that ALL US Senate GOP Primary news was local, because both of Mike DeWine’s challengers, Pierce and David Smith, live in Warren County. Pierce beat Mike DeWine on two other occasions, and both gentlemen stunned Mike DeWine in a county endorsement contest in far-northwest Fulton County, causing him to finish third. Though Fulton County is a long haul from here, what would have been wrong with running “Two Local US Senate Challengers Whip Incumbent”?

So, congrats to The Enquirer for the improvements, but you can, and should, do much better.

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9 Comments

  1. What about revenues…I would argue that circulation is up because they give the paper to every Tom (no offense), Dick & Harry who haven’t even subscribed. Every neighbor around us gets the daily Enquirer…none of us subscribe. Usually goes right into our trash can. Sad, but true.

    Comment by Anon — May 9, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  2. #1, I don’t think you’ll ever see Gannett break out numbers down to the Enquirer level in the financials — so unless they’re require to for some other reason, I don’t think we’ll ever know.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 9, 2006 @ 3:20 pm

  3. Tom, I think this has more to do with internet readership than political bias. I canceled my subscription to the Boston Globe because of boston.com.

    Comment by Kevin Irwin — May 9, 2006 @ 8:53 pm

  4. The circulation woes of newpapers are widely known, but are seldom clarified.

    When a paper loses circulation, it obviously loses subscription revenue, but the real whammy is that they have to lower ad rates.

    Comment by CaptiousNut — May 9, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

  5. #3, I’ll take that to a point, but 8.5% in 6 months? one of of every 12 subscribers, gone? At that rate, they’ll have no need to print a newspaper in 6 years.

    It also doesn’t explain why a paper like the Cincinnati Enquirer has bucked the trend.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 9, 2006 @ 9:59 pm

  6. #4, that’s exactly right, and it’s a downward spiral that leads to the kinds of cutbacks that we’ve read about at LAT, WaPo, etc.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 9, 2006 @ 10:02 pm

  7. Part of it has to do with free papers. The Boston Metro (owned by The Globe) is a free newspaper available at all of the commuter spots in the morning. On virtually every seat on the subway not occupied by an ass, you will find a Metro. That and the Boston Herald is given out for free in the afternoon.

    In regards to the Enquirer, I can’t say. Maybe less technology savvy in the region? Maybe the enquirer’s site is sub-par. I can’t definitively say.

    Comment by Kevin Irwin — May 9, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

  8. #7, I think the question is whether that Boston Metro effort just started in the past 6 months or whether it has been around a while. If it has, that doesn’t explain the Globe’s most recent 6-month drop.

    In fact the idea that the Enquirer’s subscriber base is now over half the Globe’s, considering the relative metro-area populations, is amazing.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 10, 2006 @ 6:21 pm

  9. Good point. I still maintain that it’s not the politics. The Globe pales in comparison to NYT and SFC. Remember in 2004, Republicans in state congress actually lost seats.

    Comment by Kevin Irwin — May 10, 2006 @ 7:18 pm

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