Despite Gains in Digital Subscriptions, Newspaper Circulation Sees Continued Decline

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The Wall Street Journal remains the top-selling US daily newspaper, while The New York Times has bumped USA Today for second place, largely due to digital subscriptions which now account for 19 percent of average US daily newspaper circulation, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to The Alliance for Audited Media’s (AAM) semiannual Snapshot report.

The report covers top-line circulation and audience figures from October 2012 through March 2013 for approximately 700 US and Canadian newspapers. In this case, the bottom line still tells a story of continued newspaper circulation declines despite gains across digital platforms. 

Daily circulation for the 593 US newspapers reporting comparable averages for March 2012 through March 2013 decreased 0.7 percent. Sunday circulation for the 519 newspapers reporting was down 1.4 percent.[more]

The New York Times remains the largest Sunday newspaper with an average circulation of 2.32 million, up 16 percent from last year, while USA Today’s weekday circulation fell 8 percent in 2012 to 1.67 million. 

In a few cases, such as The New York Times, the trend of charging readers for digital access is helping, and the venerable grey lady is up in print (6.5 percent) and digital (224 percent), but for the most part, publishers are losing print subscribers faster than they can sign-up new digital ones. The Washington Post lost 8.3 percent of daily print circulation while adding only about 2,000 digital readers; The New York Post lost more than one-quarter of its daily total, and despite a gain of 50,000-plus digital subs, ended the year down 10 percent; the Daily News saw print fall 10 percent and had no rise in digital.

The shifts in the industry may be just that—a readjustment to digital, reminiscent of previous sea changes such as network to pay-TV, desktop to laptop to mobile or, looking forward, what NFC or Google Glass may bring. While jarring at first, these shifts open space for new business and distribution models.

“If the newspaper industry had theme music in 2013, it might use “Been down so long it looks like up to me,” the much-recycled line from a 1920s blues song. For the first time since the deep recession that began in 2007, newspaper organizations have grounds for a modicum of optimism,” the Pew Research Center suggests. “Newspaper organizations have made progress in getting readers to pay a bigger share of costs and in turning their competencies into new revenue streams even as print advertising continues to erode and digital advertising continues to disappoint.”

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