Newspaper circ at 62-year low
Based on the record 3.5% drop in daily circulation reported today for the nation’s largest newspapers, it appears that average daily circ this year will be no better than 50 million. If so, that would be the lowest level since 1946, when daily sales averaged 50.9 million, according to statistics provided by the Newspaper Association of America.
Though circulation has fallen back to pre-Baby Boom levels, the population has more than doubled since 1946. If you divide circulation by population, you will find that fewer than 18 out of 100 Americans today buy a daily or Sunday newspaper. Back in 1946, 36% of the population bought a daily paper and 31% took a Sunday edition.
While newspaper circulation has weakened since the 1980s, the decay has accelerated sharply since 2003, as illustrated in the chart below. Sunday circulation, which had been relatively more resilient than daily sales, now is falling more precipitously than daily sales. In the six-month reporting period ended on March 31, 2008, Sunday circ fell 4.2%, nearly a full point higher than daily circ.
Some of the circulation drop has been self-inflicted. As discussed here previously, a growing number of publishers have curtailed the expense of hauling papers to distant points to preserve vanity circulation that impresses neither advertisers nor shareholders.
While some publishers also have eliminated heavily discounted circulation, there is anecdotal evidence that other newspapers, including those in the San Francisco market, continue to offer such bargains as a yearlong subscription for a mere $20.
News of the worst newspaper circulation plunge in history coincided with a story today on the cover of Advertising Age, the bible fo the ad industry, which was entitled “The Newspaper Death Watch.”
Will the the tailspin in circulation and ad sales be accelerated by the growing accumulation of bad press about the press?