Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: Weakest of Excuses

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk: Weakest of Excuses

Article excerpt

Lucky for publishers, this time around the bleak spring circulation numbers were elbowed out of the media spotlight by Rupert Murdoch's offer to buy The Wall Street Journal -- which, incidentally, reported small gains in circ, up 0.6%. Congrats, Dow Jones, or whatever you may soon be called.

When the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) released its analysis of all the papers reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, daily slid 2.1% and Sunday was down 3.1%. And I couldn't help but think: Those lousy numbers again? By now, shouldn't the

industry have finished chucking overboard third-party copies to save ad rates? After all, it was more than two years ago that the circulation scandals set publishers scurrying to clean up the "quality" of counted copies. They would take a one-year hit, some claimed, and that would pretty much be the end of it.

But last month, major metros were still blaming their falling numbers on two things: their decisions to halt distribution in certain areas, and the weeding-out of third-party copies. No one, however, brings up the obvious reason why circ is declining: Fewer people care to read the print edition.

I don't want to pick on my hometown Dallas Morning News, but it experienced a huge drop in circulation, with daily and Sunday each sinking around 13%. The Morning News attributed half of that loss to the reduction of third-party circ and pulling back its distribution to a 100-mile radius of the city. But that still leaves more than 5% of the decline unaccounted for.

Just a few years ago, a 5% drop would have garnered a lot more notice. But now, it's just another projected loss.

Over in Memphis, not only did circulation take a nosedive, The Commercial Appeal can't even claim it's reducing its other-paid circulation. According to the spring FAS-FAX, daily circ fell 9.7%. This despite an increase of 22% in other paid, and huge gains in discounted copies (from 95 to 8,846).

Paid circ numbers tell only part of what's going on in Dallas, in Memphis, and the industry at large, which is why executives freak out twice a year when circulation numbers hit. And yet a week before ABC released the latest FAS-FAX, Scarborough Research (half-owned by E&P's parent company, the Nielsen Co.) unveiled some uplifting data. The total audience ratings report from Scarborough measures the readership of not only the print product but newspaper Web sites as well.

Dallas and Memphis are on that report. …

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