Newspapers See Biggest Decline Ever

Monday, 27 Apr 2009 11:09 AM

By Dan Weil

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Newspaper circulation is plummeting at a record rate.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations reports that circulation for 395 of the country’s biggest papers dropped 7.1 percent in the six months through March, compared to the same period a year earlier.

That leaves total daily circulation for those papers at 34.4 million.

Newspaper circulation started falling in the early 1990s, as readers began turning to cable television for their news. The trend has accelerated in recent years, as readers have fled papers for the Internet.

Advertisers too have abandoned newspapers for the Internet. Papers actually have been hurt more by the plunge in ads than the drop in circulation.

That’s because ads account for more of newspapers’ revenue than circulation. In addition, newspapers have increased their prices to readers, allowing them to make up for much of the decline in circulation.

The Wall Street Journal, the country’s second largest paper, represents the only one in the top 25 to record an increase in daily (Monday-Friday) circulation. That number gained less than 1 percent to 2.1 million. Perhaps readers were eager to learn about the financial crisis.

The biggest paper in the country is USA Today. Its circulation fell 7.5 percent, the steepest decline in its history, to 2.11 million. The paper says the drop stemmed from falling hotel occupancy and a price increase at newsstands.

The New York Times is No. 3. Its daily circulation slipped 3.5 percent to 1 million.

Independent media consultant John Morton says newspapers should take advantage of readers switching to the Internet.

“I call on all you publishers to decide individually (to ward off the antitrust folks) to charge for Internet access to your newspaper content,” he writes in the American Journalism Review.

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