It appears that Editor & Publisher felt the need to get in front of some really bad news in the newspaper business. In fact, the sampling of numbers reported previews a report that will apparently be worse than others I have tracked (previous posts here, here, and here):
According to industry sources speaking to E&P, daily circulation for reporting papers in the six-month FAS-FAX period ending September is down about 2.5% while Sunday is expected to fall 3.5%. Those types of declines — in the 2% and 3% range — have been occurring as far back as the March 2005 period.
E&P has learned that several major papers have suffered declines in daily circ of over 7%, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Miami Herald and The Dallas Morning News.
Ask for comment, publishers of these papers blamed the decreases partly on the cut back in other-paid circulation — which includes Newspaper in Education, hotel, and third-party copies. And papers have been chopping distribution areas–it’s too expensive to serve outlying communities, at least in print.
Of course, some of the decline is occurring because fewer people are reading the print version. Single-copy sales, which is a barometer of paid circulation, have tumbled in recent years. This reporting period, the category is expected to decrease around 5%.
Specific bad news previews (weekdays):
- Atlanta Journal Constitution — Down 9%
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel — 9%
- Dallas Morning News — 7.7%
- San Diego Union-Tribune — 8.5%
- Miami Herald — 8.4%
The five top-tier papers with drops of over 7% is more than is present on any of the previous three larger lists I covered previously — and this is only a sample of what’s to come in the full report.
The industry’s “solution”? Come up with different numbers that are perhaps easier to fudge, perhaps tougher to audit — and apparently needed in a hurry for damage control (the excerpt below appears before the excerpt above in the original E&P article):
Finally after years of debate, the industry is moving towards tracking its total audience which encompasses all its products (especially online viewership) — not just how many people plunk down some coins for the newspaper. The change will be reflected next Monday, when the Audit Bureau of Circulations releases numbers for more than 700 daily newspapers throughout the country.
The push to herald total audience is coming not a moment too soon since paid circulation continues on a downward slide.
Look, I understand the need to get a handle on audience measurement, regardless of where the audience is coming from, and I recognize that the Internet is going to whittle away at the print market, even at an excellent newspaper. But what I think we are seeing is an attempt to equate a non-paying online reader who checks in to see last night’s sports scores and goes away to someone who buys an entire printed paper at the newstand or has it dropped on the driveway every morning. Pun intended — I’m not buying it, nor do I think that investors and shareholders will be particularly moved.
Readers, and investors, might be more impressed if they thought the papers were giving even a reasonable effort at being fair and balanced, and weren’t failing to follow up on obviously important stories — even ones handed to them on a silver platter. The circulation bleed is happening more quickly than it should because of these all-too-obvious shortcomings.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.