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Audit Bureau: Paid Digital Saves Newspaper Circulations

Published on May 02, 2012

The news is good for newspapers. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) has released the semiannual newspaper FAS-FAX and Audience-FAX reports, which include top-line print online readership.

Circulation for the 618 newspapers reporting comparable multiday averages rose a modest .68%. Circulation for the 532 newspapers reporting comparable Sunday data increased 5 percent.

The biggest gainer was The New York Times, the daily circulation of which (digital included) jumped 73.05%, “largely because of the introduction of its paid digital subscription model last yearm” the paper described. The Times’s digital subscription packages, which launched in the U.S. on March 28, 2011.

Still, The Wall Street Journal remained king among daily papers, with a total circulation of 2,118,315. As the WSJ itself described, demand for digital content helped offset a decline in print circulation. Weekday digital circulation grew 61.6%, while print fell 6.7 percent.

Of the major dailies with national circulation, only The Washington Post suffered, with an almost 8% dip in total circulation. Interestingly, as the Poynter Organization describes, several big gainers charge for online access (with paywalls), while almost none of losers do—including The Washington Post. Three of the five papers that posted the largest percentage gains in Sunday circulation now charge for online access (including The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times and Newsday), while four of the five with the largest drops do not. One of them, the Los Angeles Times, put up its paywall in March.

Surprisingly, Gannett, which owns the Detroit Free-Press (down 6.7%) owns the only significant national paper (USA Today) without a paywall, and appears to have no plans for one. It will charge for online access to all of its local newspapers including Detroit Free Press, but not USA Today, which took a modest .64% dip by ABC data.