ABC: Newspaper circulation rose in last six months, 5% on Sundays

Audit Bureau of Circulations

Newspapers across the country gained readers in the last six months, compared to the same period a year ago, according to new figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Nationally, daily circulation was up .68 percent for digital and print at the 618 papers reporting; Sunday circulation was up 5 percent at the 532 papers reporting.

On average, digital circulation now accounts for 14.2 percent of newspapers’ total circulation mix, up from 8.66 percent in March 2011. Digital circulation may be tablet or smartphone apps, PDF replicas, metered or restricted-access websites, or e-reader editions.

The New York Times reported a 73 percent gain in circulation fueled in large part by digital gains. In fact, the Times' daily digital subscribers exceed its daily print subscribers.

Average Circulation at the Top 5 U.S. Daily Newspapers
News organization Print Total digital Total avg circ (3/31/12) Total avg circ (3/31/11) % change
Wall Street Journal 1,566,027 552,288 2,118,315 2,117,796 .02%
USA Today 1,701,777 115,669 1,817,446 1,829,099 -.64%
The New York Times 779,731 807,026 1,586,757 916,911 73.05%
LA Times 489,514 100,221 616,575 605,244 1.87%
NY Daily News 400,061 156,470 579,636 530,924 9.17%

The Orange County Register posted a 53.48 percent rise in daily circulation, the highest after The New York Times, from 182,964 to 280,812. Its Sunday circulation rose 33.94%, from 287,657 to 385,283.

The Washington Post's Sunday circulation fell 15.66% from 852,861 to 719,301, and daily dropped 7.84% from 550,821 in 2011 to 507,615 this reporting period compared to last. The Post reported 19,291,000 unique users of its website, compared to 32,364,000 for The New York Times.

For Sunday subscribers, the Times takes the lead (the Journal and USA Today do not have Sunday editions). Other newspapers show large gains.

Average Circulation at the Top 5 U.S. Sunday Newspapers
News organization Print Total digital Total avg circ (3/31/12) Total avg circ (3/31/11) % change
The New York Times 1,265,839 737,408 2,003,247 1,339,462 49.56%
LA Times 850,267 102,494 952,761 948,889 .41%
Houston Chronicle 459,231 67,086 916,934 587,982 55.95%
Chicago Tribune 755,265 24,175 779,440 780,188 .10%
Washington Post 688,576 30,725 719,301 852,861 -15.66%

Of the top 25 papers, these saw the largest gains in daily circulation:

  • New York Times, up 73.05 percent
  • Orange County Register, up 53.48 percent
  • Newsday, up 33.21 percent
  • Denver Post, up 23.43 percent
  • Newark Star-Ledger, up 21.67 percent

Of the top 25 papers, these saw the largest losses in daily circulation:

  • The Washington Post, down 7.84 percent
  • Seattle Times, down 6.63 percent
  • Detroit Free Press, down 6.27 percent
  • Philadelphia Inquirer, down 5.36 percent
  • Chicago Tribune, down 5.17 percent

Of the top 25 papers, these saw the largest gains in Sunday circulation:

  • Dallas Morning News, up 87.38 percent
  • Houston Chronicle, up 55.95 percent
  • The New York Times, up 49.56 percent
  • The San Antonio Express-News, up 38.67 percent
  • Newsday, up 36.77 percent

Of the top 25 papers, these saw the largest losses in Sunday circulation:

  • The Washington Post, down 15.66 percent
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer, down .46 percent
  • Seattle Times, down .12 percent
  • Chicago Tribune, down .1 percent
  • The Los Angeles Times, up .41 percent

Only four of the top 25 papers lost circulation on Sunday, the LA Times had the smallest circulation increase.

The results are the second full set compiled under new rules for counting circulation implemented in September 2010. Because ABC releases such results every six months, Poynter's Rick Edmonds wrote yesterday, they offer "the first opportunity in 18 months to make valid apples-to-apples comparisons."

But how useful those comparisons will be to advertisers is unclear: The new rules allow publishers a variety of ways to count subscribers to various products multiple times. Digital replicas, branded editions such as Spanish language papers and digital subscriptions can all be counted according to publishers' preferences, "allowing organizations to double or triple-count subscribers if they pay for access to one or multiple digital platforms," Edmonds wrote. Whether publishers took advantage of that ability won't be apparent until they release their own statements at mid-year.

Some papers have already clearly benefited from the rule allowing branded publications. The Houston Chronicle's Sunday numbers were up 55.95 percent and include 390,617 copies of branded editions. On Sundays, those branded editions include La Voz de Houston, the Chron's Spanish-language paper, and The Good Life, a lawn-delivered special weekend edition that goes to nonsubscribers. Brendan Butler, a research manager at the Chronicle, says The Good Life accounts for about 307,000 of the Sunday totals. When the branded editions are subtracted, the Chron's average print and digital Sunday circulation is 526,317 in March 2012; subtracting branded editions from its March 2011 Sunday numbers puts its circulation then at 512,142. That's still a nice gain, but it'll give your eyebrows less of a workout.

Likewise the Los Angeles Times' average daily numbers, up 1.87 percent, include 26,840 branded edition copies. Those include the Friday edition of Hoy Los Angeles, The Times' Spanish paper, says the Times' Hillary Manning. Without Hoy, the Times' print and digital daily circulation is 589,735 this year, down from 605,244 in March 2011.

Julie Moos contributed to this report.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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