Free Markets, Free People

Top ten newspapers and their circulation–a six month update

Six months ago, I did some numbers and commentary on declining newspaper circulation.* By chance, I noticed a couple of web articles that give some more current numbers, so I decided to revisit the older article and see how things are proceeding.**

Here is a table I created with print numbers from 2004, mid 2012, and late 2012-early 2013 for the current (2013) top ten newspapers. The current top ten list is taken from an AP article on Huffington Post, and is ranked by their current circulation.

 

Newspaper

2004

2012

Early 2013

6 mo +/-%

Total +/-% since 2004

WSJ

2101017

1499204

1480725

-1.23

-29.52

USA Today

2192098

1627526

1424406

-12.48

-35.02

NYT

1119027

717513

731395

1.9

-34.64

LA Times

983727

489792

476148

-2.79

-51.60

Wash Post

760034

434693

432454

-0.52

-43.10

Chicago Sun-Times

453757

361523

392889

8.68

-13.41

Chicago Tribune

603315

388848

368145

-5.32

-38.98

NY Daily News

712671

389270

360459

-7.40

-49.42

NY Post

642844

344755

299950

-13.00

-53.34

Denver Post

340169

236223

223871

-5.23

-34.19

 

Back in November, I said

USA Today looks vulnerable to me, because it looks like the easiest national newspaper to replace with a web-based aggregation app. They do very little original reporting except for the sports section. They have not yet ramped up a decent web presence, and it’s pretty late in that game.

In the latest numbers, USA Today’s print circulation is down a staggering 12% in just six months. I’d like to say I was prescient, but that’s so much, I suspect that the data isn’t comparable. I suppose it could be correct, especially if they lost a major hotel chain or two as a distribution channel. It does seem indisputable that they they are on a long term trend of losing circulation fairly rapidly.

It appears that USA Today did ramp up their web presence somewhat. The reported number of “web subscribers” went from about 86,000 to 250,000. I suspect they’ve started counting the numbers differently; that much increase out of the blue, with no special reason for more eyes on their site, looks unlikely. Since they have no paid web subscribers, it almost doesn’t matter anyway because the revenue from web advertising isn’t going to support their current business model. (The uncertainty about web numbers is one of the reasons I think the methodology might have changed enough to make the print comparisons suspect.)

I also noted circulation alarms for the Washington Post last time:

The Washington Post looks vulnerable too. It also has limited web presence, and print circulation is down a staggering 40%+ in eight years.

The six month circulation change isn’t too bad for them, but Ed Driscoll noted yesterday that their financials have taken a big hit in that time period. Their earnings are down 85%. 

There are a couple of reasons I don’t pay much attention to the web numbers. First, it’s hard to compare the numbers or get any idea of trends without details on their methodology for counting “subscribers”. For example, they could take the count of people who have gone through a silly registration process where they ask for an email. Someone might register that way for one article and never come back. Or it might be based on visits, but there are lots of ways to fudge those, depending on how you count and define things.

Second, I’m guessing they are using a methodology that’s favorable to their numbers, and they still lag. For example, the largest reported number of web subscribers by any of the majors is about half of what the Drudge Report gets in unique daily visits. Drudge’s monthly unique visits would make that ratio fifteen to one instead of two to one. I mentioned last time that Huffington Post has passed NYT in daily visits.

The overall story means steadily decreasing revenues for everyone except possibly the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and I wouldn’t be too sure about the Times. Occasionally a regional paper will have a good run and make up some ground, as the Chicago Sun-Times has done recently (passing the Tribune on circulation in fact), and I called out the San Jose Mercury News for impressive growth in the last post. But those cases are rare, and don’t seem to be long lasting effects.

Way less money to spend is convenient in some respects, though. It’s easy for an editor to rationalize ignoring a complex story such as Benghazi. Unconsciously, he may not want to cover it because of the danger to his precious historic president, but he can tell himself he just doesn’t have the resources.

One of the messages the right needs to communicate and make part of the popular understanding is how declining revenues have constrained the reporting at major newspapers. That would be one way to explain to people, without getting partisan about it, that those newspapers shouldn’t be regarded with the authority most everyone gave them thirty years ago.

 

* The Washington Post link in that blog post, showing 2012 circulation figures, is dead now. It was apparently based on an AP story, and got removed after a while. I found the original AP story on Yahoo, with all the numbers from the original cite. It’s here.

** I should repeat the same caveat as last time: I am looking primarily at print circulation declines, and so I have to do some arithmetic because the newer numbers combine web and print. Those numbers also give the web number, so I subtract to get the presumed print circulation. It’s possible that I’m misunderstanding what the web numbers mean. Some of the “web subscribers” might also receive a print edition. In that case, the print numbers would be higher. But since I think the industry would want those numbers to look as high as possible, I don’t think they’re defining things that way.

10 Responses to Top ten newspapers and their circulation–a six month update

  • “…those newspapers shouldn’t be regarded with the authority most everyone gave them thirty years ago”

    No worries there, mate.  Not.  One.  Bit.

  • One measurement that may not be publicly available is the circulation of the wire services.
    I’ve come across a few newspaper who have dropped at least one of the wire services: AP, Reuters, etc

  • I actually read USA Today as an app on my phone but would never subscribe to them. They seem pretty decent with their news.

  • Oh this is AWESOME!
    Can’r wait till they’re all out on the street….and that includes the braves, brave LAT boys vowing to quit if the Koch’s buy the paper.

    • Maybe the can get hired by Saloon, or Fluffpoo or even the mighty Daily Kras

    • Heh. Yeah. Somone might step in and save the LA Times, and the lefty reporters say they will quit. Since the paper clearly needs an enema, it is probably best if they do quit.

  • I’ve been a WSJ & Barrons subscriber since the 70s. WSJ gave me a digital sub for free a few months ago and it was certainly nice to be able to read it on my Kindle while on vacation. I will never willingly give up my print copies for two very simple reasons: my hot tub and my firebox. It is very unlikely that I can use my Kindle more than once in my hot tub and using it to light kindling wood in my firebox would not yield satisfactory results.

    The WSJ & Barrons reporting is first rate. They were the first to dig into Sunbeam’s fishy accounting, they broke Enron, Dorothy Rabinowitz ripped up the day care abuse cases (unfortunately no prosecutors or psychs were jailed), and so on. There is no other real news organization out there. If it’s not in the WSJ, either it did not happen or it just was not important.