It is understandable, but not forgivable, that business reporters at Old Media newspapers might think that the economy is in bad shape. They first have to get past how poorly most of their employers are doing. The industry as a whole has not been doing well, and it’s been that way for quite some time.
This table illustrates that point (September 30, 2007 figures are at this post, which originally came from this Editor & Publisher article, which will soon disappear behind its firewall; March 31, 2005 figures were estimated in reverse using annual percentage changes reported as of March 31, 2006, because older data I thought would remain available no longer is):
Daily circulation at the top 20 US newspapers as of September 30 is down 7.6% from 2-1/2 years ago. USA Today is the only paper that has increased its circulation. Excluding USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, which have mostly held their own, the remaining 18 in the top 20 have dropped by 10.6%. I believe that there’s less than meets to the eye to the drop at the WSJ, because the publication has many online subscribers who do not receive the print edition.
I did not do a Sunday comparison, but the situation appears to be just as bad, if not worse. For example, the New York Times’s Sunday circulation declined over 7% in just the past year.
The one near-exception to the carnage in the non-WSJ-USAT 18 is the New York Post, which has dropped less than 2% in the past 2-1/2 years, and actually has has several periods of increasing circulation during that time.
Please don’t tell me that bias, errors of omission, and errors of commission have nothing to do with the steep declines at the other 17, and that it’s all because of the Internet — especially at the papers having percentage declines that go well into double digits.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Some fun with numbers — the 10.6% decline in the past two years for the non-USAT-WSJ 18 noted above is 4.4% a year, compounded. That may not seem right, but .956 to the 2.5 power is .894, or a 10.6% reduction. That’s pretty steep.
UPDATE 2: The WSJ’s print vs. online situation makes it clear that the paper, despite flat print numbers, has in reality grown significantly since the dawn of the Internet. This New York Times (ahem) correction lays it out:
An article in Business Day on Tuesday about circulation declines in the newspaper industry misstated the number of subscribers to The Wall Street Journal Online who are counted in the newspaperâ€™s print circulation. About 350,000 online customers â€” not all 1 million â€” also pay for a print subscription and are counted in the weekday print circulation of 2 million.
So the WSJ has 650,000 paying subscribers (1 million minus 350,000) who are online-only, including yours truly. Add that 650,000 to the paid print base of just over 2 million, and you have what is by far the largest group of paying daily news publication subscribers in the country.