By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Newspaper circulation slide continues

Daily newspaper circulation continues its seemingly unstoppable slide, and the Boston Globe once again has been hit particularly hard. According to audited figures reported by the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, weekday circulation of the Globe for the past six months has fallen 13.6 percent, to 302,638. On Sundays, the Globe has fallen 11.2 percent, to 466,665.

I do not have direct access to the figures, reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, so I can’t tell you what’s going on at the Boston Herald. E&P is only providing numbers for the top 25 papers.

Two bits of perspective.

First, for many years, the Globe’s advertising rates were based on a guarantee that its Sunday circulation would remain above 800,000, and its weekday circulation would be north of 500,000. So this is pretty devastating, especially in light of last week’s news that advertising revenue at the Globe, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was down 31.6 percent over the first quarter of 2008.

Second, as always, it’s important to keep in mind that attracts more than 5 million unique visitors each month, making it the most successful regional newspaper Web site in the United States. If only there were a way of translating that success into revenue.


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  1. NewsHound

    As we know newspaper circulation has been declining for decades but the current economic collapse has caused it to accelerate, sadly, and unfortunately. And, it isn’t corrected by increasing prices.A major contributor is that most of us for the most part were unable to see this economic crisis coming. Two years ago all media and just about all economists, analysts and corporate and government leaders were telling us that the economy is strong and could see no problems in the future. This isn’t the media’s fault for faithfully reporting the news accurately but I think many have lost faith in the truthfulness of what they read and that helps circulation decline at an even faster pace.The loss of advertising hasn’t helped either. If the Boston Globe yesterday had 25 pages of help wanted for good technical, management and medical jobs the readership would have been a lot better, and if we weren’t in this slump and there were another 25 pages of real estate quite a few more would have bought the paper hoping to buy a new home.Sadly, too, the victims of this collapse are not the cause, nor is there anything they could have done about it. For the most part, those who are responsible, the ones who caused it are not the victims, and inversely, in many cases, rewarded. And, that applies as well to the New York Times controlling owners, directors and executives for milking the company dry during the good times. If they’d been a lot more frugal for the last 100 years they’d have a few billion in spare change to get through a few bad years and even better, invest heavily into the future.But, the behavior is not only the New York Times, but General Motors, Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG, etc. that has hurt the people who have really worked to produce America which has been stolen from them, we hope, only temporarily.

  2. lovable liberal

    Distribution on paper is obsolete.

  3. NewsHound

    I wouldn’t say it is totally obsolete. It is still a darn good way to disseminate news and it is quicker to look at a whole page on newsprint than move around on the Internet. There are a lot of newspaper copies being printed and delivered across the land today, and a lot of people are buying them and reading them. It is still a good way, but there are worthy alternatives and the economics are not there for print, especially with pages of classified for jobs, houses and cars missing.

  4. chris

    Why is nobody in this thread mentioning that the Wall Street Journal is the exception to this general circulation decline trend? It’s pretty obvious that the one major newspaper that didn’t undermine the value of its brand by giving its content away online willy-nilly is also the one that maintains the perception of being worth paying for in whatever form it’s read. Why would it be otherwise? There’s a lesson here for other newspapers that sold themselves below cost and hoped to make it up in volume.

  5. rozzie02131

    Another drop of 13.6% has to be devastating for the Globe, especially as it prepares to raise prices 33% next week. (Not yet on home delivery, but they’ve already announced that is coming.)However, for the thugs who think this is somehow driven by lib-rul ideas, please note the New York Post is down 21%, the San Diego Union Tribune is down 10%, and the Dallas Morning News is down 10%. All 3 endorsed McCain, and otherwise have leaned hard to the right.

  6. Ron Newman

    Dan, can you be considered a “member of the accredited press”? According to this press release, , members of the accredited press can get free access to the full circulation reports. I’d love to see the figures for the Herald.

  7. rozzie02131 reports on local circulation figures: Herald down 17.4%. Horrible. Down to 150,688.Sunday Herald down 9.6% to 95,392.Brockton Enterprise down 5.5%.Patriot Ledger down 6.2%.

  8. Ron Newman

    What about the MetroWest Daily News? That one isn’t listed in the Globe article, nor are other dailies in our region (Waltham, Lynn, Salem, Newburyport, Gloucester, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, etc)

  9. NewsHound

    The fundamental surviving asset of a newspaper is its circulation. Raising advertising rates so there are fewer ads and thus fewer news pages and circulation rates so there are fewer readers is a vicious cycle that leads to the death of the newspaper. Can’t help but wonder why Pinch is entitled to millions a year in compensation, all at the expense of killing the company. Is this what his ancestors had in mind with the Trust.A lot of soul searching is needed here. Just think about how well the descendants of Adolf Ochs have treated themselves over the last 100 years and how if that had been in a Trust it would be there to keep this company going into the future. And, too, how obnoxiously the directors have been paid to support Jr. What a shame.

  10. NewsHound

    It probably isn’t that hard to maintain circulation with the Wall Street Journal. There are a few copies on the tables in waiting areas of about every stock broker’s offices, banks, lawyers and many of these subscriptions are renewed automatically. The same ads that reliably been there forever are there, too, for executives to view – in particular various notices. Years ago this was the Bible for stock quotes but that is rather obsolete, along with breaking business news on the Internet. A lot of business news and stock quotes are too old if it has already aged a few seconds, especially for investors who chose to allow such distraction to get in the way of making solid, long-term decisions.

  11. lovable liberal

    Newspaper circulation is not down – as long as you don’t obsess over whether it’s printed on paper. More people are reading the Boston Globe than ever before. What’s down is the disproportionate ad revenue that’s generated by ad delivery on paper.I admit this is a problem, but you can’t understand the problem until you realize that readers who still read on paper don’t pay for the content either. In many cases, they don’t even pay enough to cover the paper it’s printed on, much less trucking it to distribution sites and rebundling it for some guy in a car to leave at your house. By cancelling my subscription, I actually save the Globe money on the cost side. The problem is that they can’t recoup online the ad revenue they lose because of my fatigue with recycling and inky gray fingers.What the Internet did was end the protected local markets that paper newspapers once had. Why would anyone read national news in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, much less international news? Expansion of market breadth has always led to brutal shake-out in other industries. There’s no reason newspapering should be any different.Every local paper has to decide where it might be able to win and do that. But instead of going local and covering stories that aren’t getting told, they’ve thinned down and filled up on fluffy news you can allegedly use.The Wall Street Journal, by the way, is doing well because it has a niche it can win. It makes money because it’s essential to a motivated readership in a way many papers are not. The relative success of its pay wall owes to this, too. Also, it was already selling in a national market before the Internet, so it doesn’t suffer from any new competitive pressures because of it (well, other than potentially lower barriers to entry).News bloggers (not the usual opinion bloggers) are also much more efficient than traditional newspapers. There’s a woman in my town who covers the town as a labor of love. She posts four or five items every day, where a typical reporter might file one story a week. Maybe. Yes, news bloggers may not meet professional standards, and they often run out of stamina, but they cover all the tiny important stories that otherwise are left to word of mouth. A smart organization would be trying to harness these people.Instead, there’s a lot of whining about how much better the good old days were. The fact that it’s true in some ways doesn’t matter at all.

  12. Rick in Duxbury

    As Dan has frequently mentioned, the WSJ has succeeded partially because they leave the editorials off the front page. Yeah, you may disagree with their right-wing philosophy, (“Free people, free markets”), but it stays pretty much on the editorial pages. They have Bloomberg nipping at their heels in a big way, not to mention the Financial Times, so to say they have no competitive pressures is just flat wrong.(Todays FT covers it quite well.) I wonder how many more people would buy the Globe if it didn’t have its obnoxiously condescending attitude? Insulting your prospects is not usually a successful sales strategy.

  13. lovable liberal

    Note the modifier ‘new’ before “competitive pressure”. Without it, you missed my whole point. The Journal was already national, so it didn’t have a regional turf that it had previously only needed to defend from weaker competitors.The Journal is a good paper, though if you’ve ever read it regularly you know that it doesn’t compete with general newspapers. Instead, it runs deep stories, not the usual gamut of mass market stories, which it instead filters and summarizes. The ed page is, of course, ravingly insane. Or maybe Rupert Murdoch is ruining that – I haven’t read it regularly since a few years before he bought it.Again, on readership, you’re off point. The Globe doesn’t lack for readers. It lacks for advertisers. This is a direct effect of the Internet age restructuring of the market it sells to – the ad market, not the readers it’s selling to advertisers.

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