Editor & Publisher has released the latest circulation numbers for the newspaper industry — and they show that the decline in hard-copy readership continues. Almost all major metropolitan broadsheets lost significant ground in the last year, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and my local Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Blame the big metro papers — again. The Audit Bureau of Circulations released the spring numbers this morning, revealing more plunges in daily and Sunday circulation.
As in the past, the losses are steep while gains are minimal. This is the fifth consecutive reporting period that overall newspaper circulation experienced big drops, despite easing comparisons. For all papers reporting daily circulation, the Newspaper Association of America said that daily circ fell 2.1% while Sunday tumbled 3.1%.
All daily averages reported are for Monday through Friday. The comparisons are based on the six-month period ending March 2007 and the six-month period ending March 2006.
In a growing economy, entire industries should not show such consistent decline. In the case of newspapers, though, they have never benefitted from the economic boom that started in 2003 and continues to this day. Perhaps that might account for the coverage, or lack thereof, that the expansion has received.
How badly have newspapers declined? The Dallas Morning News suffered a catastrophic collapse, losing more than 14% of its subscribers during the reporting period. The Miami Herald lost 10% of its Sunday subscribers and 5.5% of its daily readers. Its competitor, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, didn’t fare any better, losing 8.6% of its subscribers. Many newspapers found themselves in the 4-5% loss range, including the LA Times and its chief competitor, the Orange County Register; the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; the San Jose Mercury News; and the Washington Post lost 3.4%.
The big question is why? Many of these newspapers have no real metropolitan competition, but those that did didn’t send readers to the enemy paper. Only the New York Post appears to have fed off the failure of the New York Daily News. The problem appears to be a move away from print versions of the paper, across the board, rather than a decline in interest. In fact, the rise of the blogosphere shows that people have a heightened sense of interest in news and the inclination to use several sources to satisfy their curiosity.
What we need is statistics that include on-line readership and ad revenue. It’s entirely possible that the newspaper business is thriving, and that these numbers shows a paradigm shift on delivery. At the least, the picture given by ABC and E&P is incomplete, and difficult to analyze as a result. And given that so many of us in the New Media rely on traditional media outlets for source material, a decline in fortunes — and therefore eventually investment and product — is nothing to cheer. (via Howard Kurtz)