Slope slipperier

Alan Mutter, chronicler of the decline of newspapers, has a good bit of context on the accelerating decline of newspaper circulation.

Based on the record 3.5% drop in daily circulation reported today for the nation’s largest newspapers, it appears that average daily circ this year will be no better than 50 million. If so, that would be the lowest level since 1946, when daily sales averaged 50.9 million, according to statistics provided by the Newspaper Association of America.

Though circulation has fallen back to pre-Baby Boom levels, the population has more than doubled since 1946. If you divide circulation by population, you will find that fewer than 18 out of 100 Americans today buy a daily or Sunday newspaper. Back in 1946, 36% of the population bought a daily paper and 31% took a Sunday edition.

While newspaper circulation has weakened since the 1980s, the decay has accelerated sharply since 2003, as illustrated in the chart below. Sunday circulation, which had been relatively more resilient than daily sales, now is falling more precipitously than daily sales. In the six-month reporting period ended on March 31, 2008, Sunday circ fell 4.2%, nearly a full point higher than daily circ.

For contrast, 121 million Americans voted in the 2004 Presidential election, 97.5 million Americans watched the SuperBowl, there are 40 million black Americans, 37 million Americans watched American Idol last year.