US newspaper circulation plunges 10.6 per cent

With no let up to the decade-old newspaper industry woes in the US, the average weekday circulation of 379 dailies plunged 10.6 per cent from April to September, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations report yesterday.

As publishers across the US hopelessly try to stop the migration of readers to the Internet, their woes have been compounded this year with the recession, price increases and companies cutting down on advertising budgets.

The average weekday circulation from April to September of 379 daily papers declined by 10.6 per cent to 30.4 million compared to the same period last year and the fall was larger than the 7.1 per cent decline recorded for the October 2008-March 2009 period.

The 10.6 per cent drop is the largest drop recorded since the past decade since newspaper circulation started sliding through the 1990s and into this decade by less than 1 per cent a year. The rate of decline was 2 per cent in 2005, 3 per cent in 2007 and 4 per cent in 2008.

The continuous decline reflects the steady migration of paid newspaper readership to free online news although some media moguls led by Rupert Murdoch have been campaigning recently for charging access to online news content.

To deal with falling revenues, many US publishers have raised subscription rates, newsstand prices for their print editions, reduced staff and content and scaled down circulation in far-out areas where the cost of delivery do not compensate for the small number of subscribers.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, revenue from advertising had declined by 16.6 per cent last year and has plunged approximately 28 per cent so far this year.

Apart from battling declining sales due to migration of readers to online news, newspapers had to deal with the worst recession seen in the US since World War II, which has made the industry's annual advertising revenue fall by $20 billion this year compared to three years ago.

Of the five biggest daily papers in the US, circulation declined in four, while the Wall Street Journal gained a marginal 0.6 per cent and replaced Gannett Co.'s USA Today as the nation's largest daily.

Circulation at USA Today suffered the worst decline in its 27-year history as it fell 17 per cent to 1.9 million mainly due to the paper's main customers being Hotels and Airports, which have been hit hard as people curtail on travel due to recession. The Marriott International stopped delivering the USA Today to its guests in mid April.

The third largest newspaper in the US, The New York Times circulation fell 7.3 per cent to 927,851, Tribune Company's The Los Angeles Times was fourth with a drop in circulation of 11 per cent to 657,467, and circulation at the Washington Post declined 6.4 per cent to 582,844.

The San Francisco Chronicle, one of the US largest newspapers reported the biggest decline in weekday's circulation, which fell by 25.8 per cent to about 252,000-less than half compared to 2003, and its Sunday paper fell 23 per cent to about 307,000.

Only the Denver Post and The Seattle Times escaped circulation losses since their main competitors, The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed down this year. (See: Colorado's oldest newspaper Rocky Mountain News folds upHearst's Seattle Post-Intelligencer to shut print shop)

Top 20 US newspapers' average weekday paid circulation
Rank Newspaper Circulation as of September'09 %Change (Year-over-Year)
01 Wall Street Journal 2,024,269 0.6
02 USA Today 1,900,116 -17.2
03 New York Times 927,851 -7.3
04 Los Angeles Times 657,467 -11.1
05 Washington Post 582,844 -6.4
06 New York Daily News 544,167 -14.0
07 New York Post 508,042 -18.8
08 Chicago Tribune 465,892 -9.7
09 Houston Chronicle 384,419 -14.2
10 Philadelphia Inquirer 361,480 N/A
11 Newsday 357,124 -5.4
12 Denver Post 340,949 N/A
13 Arizona Republic 316,874 -12.3
14 Minneapolis Star Tribune 304,543 -5.6
15 Chicago Sun-Times 275,641 -12
16 Cleveland Plain Dealer 271,180 -11.2
17 Detroit Free Press 269,729 -9.6
18 Boston Globe 264,105 -18.5
19 Dallas Morning News 263,810 -22.2
20 Seattle Times 263,588 N/A
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations