Washington Post’s Sunday circulation drop not as steep as it appears

At first glance, The Washington Post’s numbers reported Tuesday morning in the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ March report look grisly: Of all the Top 25 papers in the report, The Post has the steepest drop in average Sunday circulation, down 15.66 percent. That reflects a loss of 133,560 readers in a year. Average daily numbers are down 43,206 copies for a 7.84 percent drop.

Back away from the windows! It’s not that bad. The ABC’s new rules allow newspapers to roll in branded properties such as Spanish-language editions or separately delivered weekend products. The Post did that last March, including 101,448 copies of Savings Now, an advertising product with editorial content that’s home-delivered to non-Post subscribers. It didn’t include those copies in this year’s numbers. Subtract those Savings Now numbers from last March’s totals, and average Sunday circulation goes from 751,413 to 719,301. That’s still 32,112 fewer subscribers, but it’s only a 4.3 percent drop.

So what happened with Savings Now? Washington Post spokesperson Kris Coratti says The Washington Post Company is working with ABC on a review of it and “essentially we decided to be conservative.” (Daily circulation was unaffected by this decision; you may rend your garments as you planned about that one.)

This follows several days of slightly good news for The Washington Post, which could really use it after getting shut out by the Pulitzers, losing more staffers to buyouts and weathering the Elizabeth Flock brouhaha. On Monday night Peter Kafka reported the paper was hiring Digg’s technology team. Last week an analysis showed the speed of its much-maligned website was improving. And as I was preparing this article, I swear, a company representative called me to offer me a better price on the Sunday paper than what I’m currently paying for home delivery. I stuck with my old rate, which admittedly won’t help the bottom line much, but I’m sure there are more people like me.

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