Fall in US newspaper sales is accelerating

The economy and swine flu is bad enough, but while big stories fill the front pages of US newspapers, new figures show that the rate of decline in print circulation has accelerated since last autumn.

According to a report in the New York Times, figures out on Monday show a more than 7% drop compared with the previous year.

The industry knows where these people are going as well, but it doesn’t help. They aren’t going away, they are going to the web. As circulation falls accelerated, newspaper website traffic increased 10.5% in the first quarter, but revenue gains have come nowhere near matching that increased audience.

The only paper out of the top 25 in the US to post a circulation increase was The Wall Street Journal, but that rose only by 0.6%, according to the US Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Many of the falls are double digit at newspapers whose future is in doubt like the San Francisco Chronicle (down 15.72%), Houston Chronicle (down 13.96%) and The Boston Globe (down 13.68%).

Top 25 US newspapers by paid average weekday circulation

Title                                                       March 09        +/-  

USA TODAY                                         2,113,725    -7.46%
WALL STREET JOURNAL                   2,082,189    +0.61%
NEW YORK TIMES                              1,039,031    -3.55%
LOS ANGELES TIMES                           723,181    -6.55%
WASHINGTON POST                             665,383    -1.16%
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS                      602,857    -14.26%
NEW YORK POST                                  558,140    -20.55%
CHICAGO TRIBUNE                               501,203    -7.47%
HOUSTON CHRONICLE                        425,138   -13.96%
ARIZONA REPUBLIC                              389,701   -5.72%
DENVER POST                                       371,728     N/A*
NEWSDAY                                               368,194    -3.01%
DALLAS MORNING NEWS                     331,907    -9.88%
MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE             320,076    -0.71%
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES                           312,141    -0.04%
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE             312,118    -15.72%
BOSTON GLOBE                                    302,638    -13.68%
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER                291,630    -11.70%
DETROIT FREE PRESS                         290,730    -5.90%
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER                     288,298   -13.72%
NEWARK STAR-LEDGER                       287,082   -16.82%
ST. PETERSBURG TIMES                      283,093   -10.42%
OREGONIAN                                           268,512   -11.76%
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE               261,253     -9.53%

Elsewhere, the New York Times has some personal stories from the heart of the downturn and how some reporters are being hit.

One is that of Todd Smith, a reporter from the St Louis surburbs who was covering a city hall story for the Suburban Journals when a man with a gun and a grudge stormed the building and fatally shot six people, before being killed by the police. Smith was short through the hands, but survived. In April he was laid off.

“I thought my job [as the online editor] was pretty safe,” he said. “And yeah, I thought getting shot for the company might be looked at as something important, but I guess not.”

There is a happier story from Arizona. Paul Giblin and Patti Epler, former journalists at The East Valley Tribune outside Phoenix, were laid off earlier this year and with a few colleagues started The Arizona Guardian, a news site supported by subscriptions and advertising.

Since then, Giblin and Gabrielson have won a string of awards for their project at The Tribune, including, last Monday, a Pulitzer Prize.



  • Rory Sutherland

    I think it’s a bit simplistic to say these readers are migrating to the web. That is part of the truth – but the advent of 24-hour news TV can’t be ignored either.

    The simple fact is that newspapers have gone from being indispensible to being optional.

  • Gordon Macmillan

    i didn’t say that the research did, but i disagree it is not simplistic – sales have fallen and web traffic has risen. I’m sure they consume ABC News/CNN, Fox et cetera as we all do as part of a healthy media diet.

  • Kevin Gordon

    Full glass, empty glass.

    I put half the liquid from the full glass into the empty glass.
    The empty glass has tiny holes in it.
    So I pour the liquid from the porous glass back into the empty solid glass.
    Now I only have three quarters of what I started with.

    Imagine the liquid is billions of pounds of advertising revenue.
    Houston. We have a problem.

    Now pull back,

    Imagine there’s a few solid glasses of liquid is in a sea of porous glasses.
    Every glass is begging for revenue from the few solid glasses.
    Because consumers are conditioned to drink the liquid free through the holes.

    Unless the holes are plugged, both consumer and revenue will disappear.
    In eroding readership, the web is destroying its own future market.
    It is in the interest of digital publications to support their readers until
    they are prepared to pay. They have other concerns in hard times.
    They don’t care where the news comes from. If they did in the UK,
    Quality press would be the biggest seller and Tabloids the smallest.
    At the end of the day it’s all about quallity versus volume.

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