Newspaper circulation falling fast, down 10.6 pct

NEW YORK - October 26, 2009

Figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that average daily circulation dropped 10.6 percent in the April-September period from the same six-month span in 2008. That was greater than the 7.1 percent decline in the October 2008-March 2009 period and the 4.6 percent drop in the April-September period of 2008.

Sunday circulation fell 7.5 percent in the latest six-month span.

As expected, The Wall Street Journal has surpassed USA Today as the top-selling newspaper in the United States. The Journal's average Monday-Friday circulation edged up 0.6 percent to 2.02 million - making it the only daily newspaper in the top 25 to see an increase.

USA Today saw its worst decline ever, dropping more than 17 percent to 1.90 million. The newspaper has blamed reductions in travel for much of the circulation shortfall, because many of its single-copy sales come in airports and hotels.

The New York Times stayed in third place at 927,851, down 7.3 percent from the same period of 2008.

Newspaper sales have been declining since the early 1990s, but the drop has accelerated in recent years. Part of this is because newspapers stopped serving harder-to-reach areas and limited circulation to their core regions.

In many cases, people simply aren't buying print copies as much as they used to, given the abundance of free news on the Internet, often from the newspapers themselves. This has prompted newspapers to consider charging fees for Web access, but it could prove difficult to persuade people to pay for something they are used to getting for free.

Newsday, a Long Island daily, said last week it plans to start charging people who don't subscribe to its print edition $5 a week for access to its Web site. Newsday's circulation dropped 5.4 percent in the latest reporting period, to 357,124.

Of the top 25 dailies, the San Francisco Chronicle saw the worst circulation decline, falling 25.8 percent to 251,782. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., and The Dallas Morning News both fell 22.2 percent.

Of all the newspapers with a paid circulation of more than 50,000, the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania saw the biggest increase - rising 16.5 percent to 55,370.

The figures from the circulation bureau compare 379 newspapers that had reported daily average sales for both the current and year-ago periods. The Sunday figure, meanwhile, compares 562 newspapers.

The closures of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other printed newspapers aren't reflected in the total decline. (And in many cases, subscriptions were transferred to each city's other major newspaper). The total also excludes many smaller newspapers because of rule changes that make direct comparisons impossible.

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