The Audit Bureau of Circulations reports
that newspaper circulation in America has dropped 10.6% from last year, dragging newspaper audiences to their lowest point since World War II. On cue, bloggers are once again heralding
of newspapers. (This familiar cry gains potency when you see how far
circulation has fallen over twenty years.) But there's reason to believe that
sinking readership may be less a death knell than part of the industry's evolving business strategy. Newspapers may be better off printing fewer copies for fewer, wealthier customers in the long run. Why?
- Cutting Wasteful Over-Production Editor and Publisher's
Jennifer Saba surveys the industry's long-held strategy, finally
abandoned, of flooding the market with extra newspapers. "Publishers have been purposely pulling back on
certain types of circulation, including hotel, employee and third-party
sponsored copies. No longer are they distributing newspapers to the
outer reaches of the core market. The cost of delivery and the cost of
materials have forced publishers to scale back."
- Quality Over Quantity MediaMemo columnist Peter Kafka argues
that newspapers pursue a smaller readership. Printing newspapers, after
all, is expensive and producing too many copies is wasteful. "Tough
times have forced many papers to rethink their circulation
strategies. An obvious conclusion: Much of the money publishers were
spending to print and deliver dead trees has gone to waste. New
strategy: Print fewer copies, and charge more for the ones you do sell.
That's a tactic, not a strategy, but in the near-term it might work."
E&P's Saba agrees. "Circulation is guaranteed to go down as prices go up, but publishers
have opted to wring more revenue from readers as advertisers keep their
- Look to the Internet Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7 Wall Street insists a Web-based strategy
is the future. "Newspapers are in the midst of a retrenchment that they
cannot avoid and part of that retrenchment is cutting back
circulation," he writes. "Newspapers can buy time by cutting
circulation and people to save
costs. An economic recovery may buy the industry even more time. It has
been said far too often, but, with the new September 30 circulation
figures in hand, it is worth saying again. For the newspaper industry a
huge success on the Internet is all that is left. All the other options
As Economy Recovers, So Will Readership Mother Jones's Kevin Drum explores the short-term effects of the recession. "There are various ways you can look at that 10% drop, and one of them
is simply that the recession has condensed several years of decline
into a single year. A $500 newspaper subscription is a prime candidate
to get sliced out of the family budget when times are tough and news
can be found everywhere. So maybe all that's happening is that a
cohort of the least dedicated readers are leaving all at once, and when
the recession starts to lift newspaper circulations will begin to
stabilize a bit. Or at least decline more slowly."
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