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Lauren Rich Fine On Newspaper Circulation

Not surprisingly, the circulation figures for the six months ended Sept. 30, as compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, were pretty horrible. In some cases, the declines were planned as circulation was cut to certain areas considered less important to advertisers. Interestingly, two national papers, USA Today and Wall Street Journal, were relatively flat. It could be interpreted that the remaining newspaper readers of the world are migrating to national and international news and better quality. Clearly the decline at the New York Times goes in the face of this observation. Further, as major metropolitan papers focus on more local news, it was supposed to stave off declines and provide proprietary content. The New York tabs were off big after having outperformed previously. Declines aren’t good and this biannual release is likely to be construed as another nail in the coffin for newspapers. The absolute numbers, individually and collectively, are still large and shouldn’t be ignored. That might be the nicest thing that can be said as we are still digesting just how large these declines really are.

There will likely be some bragging rights in some cities. For example, the Chicago Sun-Times was down 3.94 percent but Zell’s Chicago Tribune was down 7.75 percent. Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) can crow with its recent acquisition of Newsday that circulation was only down 2.58 percent while the Daily News was down 7.16 percent and Murdoch’s (NWS) was down 6.25 percent. Newhouse’s papers in the top 25 — Newark and Cleveland — were down 10.4 and 8.58 percent respectively. NYT’s Boston Globe was down 10.18 percent. Other big city papers suffered similarly as Philly (owned by Brian Tierney’s group) was down 11 percent, Atlanta down 13.6 percent, Houston down 11.7 percent and Dallas Morning News (BLC) was down 9.3 percent. Zell should feel good that the LA Times was only down percent.

2 Responses to “Lauren Rich Fine On Newspaper Circulation”

  1. Wow, circulation down double digits…again…… I think it is time!

    Time to realign completely. All of the cost cutting strategies are being deployed: mass layoffs, smaller newsholes, narrower web widths, forced retirements…however the ultimate result is a diminished product. Hence, even faster attrition of readership. So again, I think it is time.

    It is time for several markets, mid to major markets, to experiment with FREQUENCY of circulation. The era of the daily is over. Being daily any more diminishes your strategic opportunity. Up to the minute news is available throughout the day in so many different outlets. The opportunity left to local news outlets is to develop insights, paint broader pictures and provide truly compelling marketing opportunities for their customers. It is time to stop being a daily.

    Three papers a week, that's my suggestion. Make them as fat as you can, but focus them narrowly: local business (Mondays), local sports and entertainment (Thursday or Friday) and local perspectives (Sunday). Do this and your reporters are much happier and much more productive, your advertisers feel the impact of a more enduring, must have product, your costs go way down, your relevance goes way up. Put everything else on the daily website.