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Newspaper Circulation: The Good(?) News

Posted by: Jon Fine on November 8, 2005

The latest circulation results for newspapers, courtesy of Audit Bureau of Circulations, reveal an interesting tiering effect. The biggest-of-the-big held on reasonably well; the major metros just below them got killed, and smaller papers did somewhere in between.

Top 20 chart can be found here. As an industry, newspapers’ daily circulation declined 2.6% and the fifty biggest newspapers’ daily circulation declined 3.5%.

Half-full alert: The three biggest newspapers—the national triumvirate of USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York TImes—only fell 0.4%.

Half-empty alert: The downside thereof is that both USA Today and the New York Times significantly increased their use of seriously discounted subscriptions. (These are reported under the rubric of “other paid” in the Audit Bureau report; the prototypical example of other paid circulation is copies of, say, of USA Today purchased in bulk and delivered to hotel rooms.) But the Journal actually reduced “other paid” circulation, according to a report published by Prudential Equity Group analyst Steven N. Barlow (not available online).

If one dared be optimistic about any of this, which is difficult, the Journal’s example suggests that there are broader audiences available to serious, strong content, particularly if you can sell it to a national audience.

Major newspapers that posted notably lousy circulation results despite significantly stepping up their “other paid” circulation include the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (daily circulation down 7.6%; other paid circulation up 11.9%); the Cleveland Plain Dealer (daily circulation down 4.5%; other paid circulation up 11.2%); the New York Daily News (daily circulation down 3.7%; other paid circulation up 29.2%); and the Los Angeles Times (daily circulation down 3.8%; other paid circulation up 43.9% or about 8%, depending on how you’re counting)

The Newspaper Association of America’s response to more depressing circ numbers is to try to move advertisers away from buying newspapers based on (declining) circulation, and move them towards buying on total audience.

I’m sure advertisers will gladly go along with this.


Reader Comments

Mike Bawden

November 9, 2005 1:39 AM

When will newspapers and magazines ever realize that it's not about how many people they deliver it's all about the quality of the audience and the publication's ability to engage and interest them (thereby bringing a higher quality of attention to their advertiser's ads)?

Great post, by the way. Thanks. I've tipped to it in both my "Much Ado About Marketing" blog and my "Media Advisor" blog. Both blog posts should appear on Wednesday, 11/09/2005.

Thanks again,

Mike Bawden
Brand Central Station

Len Kendall

November 28, 2005 5:35 PM

The college newspaper that I am currently Ad Manager at has also seen a decline in circulation. We went from 20,000 copies daily to 18,000 this year. Although competition has been introduced via larger papers (mostly owned by Gannett) I am still fairly confident that my generation and the one after it will see an even larger decline in paper readership and a move to electronic. I think if this industry is to survive it is going to have to reinvent itself relatively soon.

The above is also what makes it scary for soon-to-be grads like myself who are looking to work in that industry.

David in Texas

July 16, 2006 3:55 PM

Well this is not that difficult to understand. Newspapers, along with the rest of the MSM, are in free-fall decline because the mask is completely off their liberal bias.

Here's a pointer - quit trying to shove your liberal worldview down everyone's throat! I'll get my information from somewhere else, and be quite happy to see you liberals suffer the economic consequences.

Len, try to take a few business courses while you are in college. I know you've been taught that business is one of the enemies; along with the police, the military, Christians, and people who go to work every day to raise a family with their values. But if you did learn a little business then you might understand that spitting on the values of over 1/2 of your potential audience is not a good thing.

The press is just getting what it deserves. Now go get an honest job.

Len Kendall

February 14, 2008 12:46 AM

Interesting. Someone responded to my comment over 6 months after I posted it making gross generalizations about me based on very little information. Over two years later after the post, I'm discovering this page. Amazing how things live on the internet forever.

David in Texas, if you happen to find yourself back here in the archives of the internet, I never claimed any of the things you assumed about me. I didn't actually write for the paper, i actually worked on the business side you speak of. Currently am living a very honest life free of prejudice towards others.

best of luck to you.

A. Rooney

March 10, 2008 10:11 PM

If you care about the future of college newspapers- read on:

College Newspapers- beware the USA Today and the NY Times Collegiate Readership programs and the new Quadrantone on line advertising platform. The Big boys want your college newspaper advertisers and they want you college newspaper readers.

If your school is approached by the Gannett/USA Today Collegiate Readership Program or the NY Times, I hope that you will consider this: They will use their newspapers on your campus to financially beat your college newspaper into submission. They can sell ads to your advertisers at a ridiculously low rate for a while to alienate your advertisers. They can sell local advertising with local advertiser inserts. They can even create customized coupon books that are inserted in the local and national papers they provide for your campus readers- Just another clever way to steal your college newspaper advertisers.

Read what is happening now at The Penn State to their school newspaper- the school that started(?) the college readership program 10 years ago! Other schools seem to be catching on:

By the way- It looks like Graham Spanier’s “new” idea was actually conceived several years earlier. The following article is from 1989:

The large newspaper conglomerates want to get you hooked on reading their publications. They have the same mindset as the tobacco companies- that is to say they must replace older customers with a new generation that does not read the metro papers if they are to survive as a business. The only way they can get college student readers to read national newspapers is by giving them away (actually they are subsidized by your school administration or student government association).

If your college paper has potential for profit, the large newspaper company may offer to buy your paper for a multiple of your greatly reduced ad revenue after they have stolen your advertisers. They may find it necessary just to eliminate your paper all together.

USA Today and other Newspaper conglomerate Collegiate Readership Programs have flatly denied in print articles that they want to take away your college newspaper readers. “Gannett dismissed any suggestion that it planned to conquer student journalism.

"There is no grand Gannett strategy," said Tara Connell, a spokeswoman at its headquarters in McLean, Va. "Gannett is not looking to buy college newspapers. We look at all sorts of things." - 2/18/08

Oh really? Read this article from The Rocky Mountain Collegian on Mar. 7.

And this article from The New York Times
From the Wall Street Journal- Aug. 9, 2006:
Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell says the company doesn't rule out buying another student newspaper. "Would we do it again if the circumstances were right? Sure," says Ms. Connell.

“Barbara Hall, the USA Today representative who coordinated the UA (university of Alabama) program, said USA Today is trying to create a "learning environment on the University campus through the reading of newspapers."
"If they're only interested in increasing student readership, why doesn't [USA Today] just give away the papers for free?" Isom (from the Crimson White) asked.
“Asked that question, Hall said she did not know, except that newspapers cost money to produce and distribute. She said, however, that USA Today is more for businessmen and that the paper "is not going after the college market anytime in the near future." End of quote (Crimson White Online- 2/13 /04)
Remember- only paid circulation is recognized by the Audit Bureau of Circulation- the oversight organization that verifies circulation numbers that newspapers use to increase their ad rates. That Mrs. Hall, is why you can’t give away your newspapers, but of course you knew that already didn’t you? Just another example of the double talk that Gannett is known for.

If they are not interested in acquiring college newspapers or “partnering,” why are large newspaper corporations lobbying almost every college and university in the United States, sometimes for years, to get their papers on your campus? Every free paper on your campus takes readers and advertisers away from your college newspaper. One can only read so many newspapers.

The USA Today and New York Times Collegiate Readership Programs have been cleverly marketed to colleges and universities across the country as a way to enlighten our students and improve the journalism skills of the campus newspaper writers. On Feb. 15, 2008 a joint initiative called Quadrantone was announced by Gannett, The Tribune Newspapers, Hearst Corp and the New York Times. This program creates an unprecedented on line advertising platform that will allow this newly formed oligopoly to offer localized on line advertising on their member online newspaper websites to local advertisers who have relied on the college newspaper to reach students. With Quadrantone, even the on line editorial content can be customized to reach different demographic groups.

Here is the bottom line- The USA Today and the New York Times readership programs are nothing more than a surreptitious way to curry favor with students and administrators under the guise of providing a valuable educational service to our community. Make no mistake about it. The goal of these readership programs is not to enlighten our students and broaden their perspectives as they would have you believe. Their plan involves bringing USA Today and usually the New York Times on campus along with the local metropolitan newspaper (usually a Gannett publication)- They get your school to cover the cost of the papers- not the real cost- just a fraction of the cost- just enough to count each paper as paid circulation that will pass muster with the ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation). That way the large newspaper corporations can justify ad rate increases to their national advertisers.

Here is the best part- How is the success of the 4-week “pilot program” for the USA Today Readership program on the campus determined? I have witnessed this up close and in person- Attractive smiling USA Today Collegiate Representatives stand if front of the USA Today readership racks and hand out questionnaires with one hand and give away nice “prizes” with the other hand. Talk about baiting the respondent! The USA Today reps then turn in their results to the SGA and the college administrators- and no one questions the obvious bias!! Is it just me or does this sound like the election results when Saddam Hussein got 99% of the popular vote?

Once the Readership program gets the local metropolitan and national newspapers on the college campuses, their goal is to steal college newspaper advertisers by offering below market ad rates to local advertisers and below market on line ad rates through the Quadrantone platform. Gannett and the other large newspaper conglomerates share a common goal- encourage the college newspapers to sell out for a fraction of what they are worth.

A few days after the local metropolitan paper and the two national papers are made available for free in nice shiny racks on the college campus, the multitude of ad reps for the local metropolitan paper and the Quadrantone newspaper ad sales reps will be calling on every local business within a 10-mile radius of the campus and they will of course call EVERY national advertiser that has used the local college paper in the last 5 years. They will offer the college newspaper advertiser an ad rate so low that the advertiser will jump ship. They will pitch to the advertisers the fact they their newspaper and online platform can now reach the college students for less money. Now that Quadrantone can offer locally targeted online advertising, the college newspapers that have local online advertising revenue will no longer be able to compete.

"Citizen Kane" is often considered by movie critics to be the best
movie EVER PRODUCED."Citizen Kane" is a 1941 mystery/drama film. Released by RKO Pictures, it was the first feature film directed by Orson Welles.

The story traces the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a man whose career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but
gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power."- Wikipedia
It supposedly centers around the life of William Randolph Hearst, the
undisputed giant in the newspaper industry in the early 1900's. He
tried everything he could to ban the movie from reaching the theaters
and almost succeeded. If you want to see what corporate greed in the
newspaper industry looks like, watch the movie.

But don't worry. When all looks lost, Gannett or some other newspaper giant might come to the rescue and buy out your college newspaper if it has the potential for profit. If the college paper gets bought out, the students that are left now work for a huge multimedia conglomerate, and they can kiss goodbye the editorial freedom they have taken for granted.
If the students start working for Gannett or some other huge newspaper corporation, they better not say something that the corporation does not agree with in the college paper, especially when it comes to politics. Study your new owner's political mindset and commit it to memory or risk being shown the door. Gannett has already bought an independent college newspaper in Florida and tried desperately to buy another student newspaper in Colorado.

This is just the beginning. The alarming fact is that the USA Today and NY Times Readership Program marketers have duped students and their administrators into thinking that their motives are purely altruistic. That should insult the collective intelligence of our future leaders.

The student newspaper is in danger of being destroyed by a modern day Citizen Kane.

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