May 8, 2012

Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Circulation Drops Below a Quarter-Million, But It Could Be Worse

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is the only daily newspaper in Greater Cleveland (2010 population: 2.08 million). According to the latest “Top 25″ release from the newspaper industry’s Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), its average daily circulation for the six months ended March 31, including about 14,300 digital-only subscribers, dropped to 246,571. The “PD” is Ohio’s only newspaper in the ABC’s Top 25.

That’s a 28% drop from six years ago, when the paper’s daily circulation was 343,163. It’s almost certainly the first time in decades that the paper’s daily circulation has gone below a quarter-million.

The news about Sunday circulation at the “PD” isn’t so bad. Five years ago, Sunday circulation was 442,482. The March 31, 2012 Sunday figure has two components: “Regular” circulation is 340,570, supplemented by 60,564 copies of a “branded” edition known as the “PD Wrap-up,” a Sunday-only publication containing what a PD circulation employee described as “select content” targeting specific zip codes. The combined total of just over 401,000 is only 9% lower than the 442,482 figure from five years ago. Top-tier papers in many other towns have seen drops of 30% or more during that time.

Like almost every major newspaper nationwide, the Plain Dealer is having a hard time figuring out how to catch eyeballs in the digital age, let alone how to turn a profit on them. But the bleeding elsewhere is in many cases has been much more severe. At the once thought indispensable Washington Post, daily and Sunday circulation were down by almost 8% and and over 15%, respectively, in the past twelve months — and I believe it’s accurate to say that the PD doesn’t have the kind of problem the WaPo has with excessive compensation, namely one of “paying six-figure salaries to scores of people whose output averages no more than a few hundred words per day.”

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