Says The Times:
For starters, those circulation figures may not be as dire as they sound. A “significant portion” of the drop “results directly from the industry’s long-term, and arguably long-overdue, initiative to eliminate inefficient vanity and promotional circulation,” writes Allen Mutter on his blog, Confessions of a Newsosaur.
That means newspaper companies are cutting out discounted subscriptions, free papers at hotels and delivery to far-flung locales, none of them particularly appealing to advertisers and increasingly seen as not worth the cost.
Counters Poynter’s Rick Edmonds (my emphasis):
Yet there’s more to the story. [The Audit Bureau of Circulations] further breaks down paid circulation into categories of “over 50 percent” and “25 to 50 percent” of the paper’s cover price. [That is, highly discounted sales – jj] Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine plugged in those figures for a sample of the mid-sized and large papers of public companies and the results were clear: even these losses reported to ABC were achieved with a lot of deep discounting.
In other words fully paid circulation is typically falling even faster than the overall totals reported this week. Apparently, newspaper companies trying to bolster the numbers either pushed deeply discounted introductory offers at readers or extended discounts they were already offering many subscribers rather than trying to convert them to fully paid.
Suzy Sunshine Times:
Just as the lackluster circulation numbers were being dissected, the Newspaper Association of America released the results of a study it commissioned showing that when Internet readership is counted, the newspaper audience is actually way up — nearly 8 percent over all from February 2005 to March 2006.
Chicken Little Poynter:
A closer look at those numbers, however, underscores the difficulty of the industry’s current business dilemma. If you divide that monthly total into a daily one, there were roughly 1.9 million people visiting newspaper web sites each day in September. By the same calculation, the average time spent online would be about 1.4 minutes per day. (A recent NAA/Scarborough study estimated that the typical reader spends a little less than 30 minutes with the daily edition of the printed newspaper and more than 45 minutes on Sunday.) Those numbers may not be big enough to really make up for the loss in circulation.
Also, note the irony of The Times complaining:
Cluttered, hard-to-navigate newspaper sites proliferate. And many sites force readers to register, which Internet types say is counterproductive, when those readers can so easily go elsewhere for their news.
If you’d like to read the rest of that story, you will, of course, have to register.
: Newsosaur now punctures a hole in the aforementioned latte cup, pointing out that time spent on newspaper sites compares badly with other sites:
But the 41 minutes spent at newspaper websites in a month is fully 40% lower than the average 1 hour and 40 minutes that visitors linger at the 10 busiest web sites in a month, according to traffic statistics compiled by Nielsen/NetRatings in April.
: And while we’re on the subject of gravity and newspaper circulation, NewsDesigner does a great job of charting circulation against the timing of redesigns. I believe this project was partly inspired by a good post Jay Small wrote arguing that papers are overinvesting in design. As one of the commenters there says, it would also be useful to chart papers that have not had redesigns. But in any case, this demonstrates that redesigns are no cure for what ails papers. As another commenter there said, “We need a new boat.” Or to mix that metaphor: The lipstick ain’t doing it.