Single-Copy Newspaper Sales Decline

A badly kept secret is that U.S. newspapers have been trying to disguise their shrinking circulation by increasing the numbers of ‘bulk’ circulation that they drop off unsolicited in hotels, or have advertisers purchase, or drop off at schools under the failed ‘Newspapers in Education’ program. The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s rules about advertiser-purchased and hotel ‘bulk’ circulations were liberalized during the past two years. Many newspapers also have increased ther NIE distributions from one or two percent of circulation to up to ten percent of circulation!

Now comes news that single-copy sales of newspapers are declining. That’s doubly important because single-copy sales used to represent 15.7 percent of the average newspaper’s circulation but now represent about 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Nielsen//Netratings report for July 2003 says that the average visitor to NYTimes.com, WashingtonPost.com, USAToday.com, or WSJ.com, visits less than six times per month. NYTimes.com’s Media Kit as usual puts those figures into comparative charts.

What do printed newspapers’ and their Web site’s circulation and usage frequencies mean together? The answer is that why people are reading newspapers less nowadays isn’t a matter of format (paper or computer screen) but of the content. Simply shovelling the declining print product online won’t change anything. In fact, it makes things worse: The content that people are reading less is harder to read online than in print.

If newspaper New Medium executive truly want to change the world and save the newspaper industry from extinction, then they had better stop shoveling print content online and truly use the New Medium in its own right (as we outlined in our speech at the University of Missouri last week).

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