Circulation Still Declining at News-Journal, Rising at Sentinel and St. Augustine Record
FlaglerLive | May 3, 2011
For the first time in several years, the newspaper industry–much of it, anyway–got a bit of good news Tuesday as many newspapers reported increases in circulation, particularly in digital editions. The St. Augustine Record and the Orlando Sentinel were among those who saw an increase, reversing several years of decline.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal, in contrast, continued to lose readers, even when digital editions are included, though its latest 12-month loss was not as steep as in previous years.
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The Audit Bureau of Circulation today released circulation figures for more than 800 daily and weekly newspapers in the United States and Canada. The reports cover the six months ending on March 31.
The circulation figures look brighter not necessarily because newspapers are adding readers, but because of the audit bureau’s new calculation method. Significant changes account for the brighter figures, which are no longer referred to as “paid circulation,” but as “average circulation,” whether paid or unpaid. The combined circulation figures now include paid print circulation and “verified” print–paid or unpaid–and paid online circulation, including, for example, copies of newspapers distributed to schools, copies distributed to hotels and motels, and copies distributed to newspaper employees. The new figures also include “branded” editions, what the audit bureau defines as “any editions of the newspaper that are published at least weekly, have a different name than the ABC-member newspaper, but are labeled to include the word ‘edition.’”
The News-Journal’s Flagler News-Tribune, for example, which circulates only in Flagler County, is a branded edition.
In his letter to readers last month on the first-year anniversary of Halifax Media’s ownership of the News-Journal, Publisher Michael Redding had written: “As a team, we are proud to report that our efforts to make The News-Journal better have been met with enthusiasm by our readers. Over the past 12 months, more than 3,000 new subscribers said ‘yes’ to the ‘new’ News-Journal.”
In fact, over the past 12 months, and according to figures provided by the News-Journal to the audit bureau, the paper’s “total average circulation”–not just its paid circulation–fell on weekdays from an average of 70,721 a year ago to 69,881, a decline of 1.2 percent. The circulation figure includes 678 digital-replica subscriptions. Sunday declines were steeper, falling from 92,553 last year to 90,219 this year, or 2.5 percent. (Halifax Media is owned by a group of three investors, among them Redding.)
Like many newspapers, the News-Journal is facing increasing competition, online and even in print. The new ownership at the News-Journal coincided roughly with the first year of the publication of the Palm Coast Observer in Flagler County, a free weekly that started in February 2010 with a circulation of 20,000 (including 16,000 driveways, the rest being distributed through racks), and increased this year to 24,000, with targeted expansions in Palm Coast and Flagler Beach neighborhoods, where the News-Journal once had a monopoly. The continued circulation and advertising declines may have prompted Redding to offer cash rewards to newsroom and other employees if they sold subscriptions and advertising.
The News-Journal’s circulation figures are entirely separate from readership on its free online website, which drew 636,830 unique visitors and 1.45 million total visitors in March. (If you click into the News-Journal three separate times during the day, you count as three total visits, but one absolute unique visitor.) The newspaper’s total page views–the number of actual web pages each visitor clicks through–was 4.3 million in March, with just 129,000 page views in the Flagler County section of its website. In comparison, FlaglerLive, a somewhat smaller operation, had 963,000 page views sitewide in March.
Using the same print metrics as the News-Journal’s, the St. Augustine Record’s weekday circulation rose from 17,481 last year to 19,291 this year, a 10 percent increase. But the Record’s rise is largely due to its digital replica edition, which accounts for 4,197 copies on weekdays, double its figure last year. Still, even without the digital edition, the Record saw an increase in its print circulation, both on Sundays and on weekdays. The paper’s overall Sunday circulation rose from 19,444 last year to 22,259 this year.
Circulation at the Orlando Sentinel increased as well. Weekday circulation last year was 186,099. It rose this year to 187,841, or 1 percent. But the rise was driven overwhelmingly by 7,700 digital replicas. Sunday circulation also rose, from 285,790 last year to 287,845 this year. That’s less than 1 percent.
The top 25 newspapers with digital replica editions reported an average circulation increase of 20 percent, with with e-editions’ circulation totaling 1,630,125 compared to the previous year’s 1,363,212. The Wall Street Journal accounts for almost a third of that figure, with 504,734 electronic subscriptions. The figure will likely rise steeply next year as it reflects numerous newspapers’ switch to the pay-wall model of the Journal–a model The New York Times adopted last month. The Times until then had the largest online readership of any newspaper in the world.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s latest annual report on media, every sector in the news media industry improved in 2010–except for newspapers, which suffered continued revenue decline. Since 2000, print advertising in the United States has fallen from $48.7 billion to $22.8 billion, a 53 percent drop. Classified advertising has fallen 70 percent. Online advertising in 2010 exceeded print, at $25.8 billion even after a $3 billion decline from the previous year, due to the recession. Print-newspaper newsrooms have shrunk 30 percent since 2000, according to Pew.
The silver lining for the News-Journal is that its circulation is no longer in free-fall, though its weekday circulation is 40 percent smaller than it was in March 2006, and its Sunday circulation is 30 percent smaller. The overall weekday decline in the last 12 months was considerably smaller than it had been in previous years. And while the paper always recovers circulation between September and March, reflecting the snowbird season, the recovery this year, at 8.3 percent, was slightly better than the previous two years (4.1 percent and 7.6 percent), but nowhere near the more than 17 percent recovery rate each year between 2005 and 2007. That number can be misleading, however, as the base of subscribers continues to shrink, and returning snowbirds take the paper in smaller and smaller numbers.