Woeful Circulations for Digital Editions

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Here are a few circulation figures for some U.S. newspapers’ digital editions:

  • USA Today – 900 self-reported (0.05 percent of the total weekday print circulation of 2,154,539).
  • The New York Times – 3,172 ABC-audited (0.28 percent of 1,118,565).
  • The Washington Post – 424 ABC (0.06 percent of 732,904).
  • Boston Globe – 321 self-reported (0.03 percent of 452,109).
  • Sacramento Bee – 100 self-reported (0.03 percent of 303,841),
  • Boston Herald – 150 self-reported (0.06 percent of 248,988).
  • Arkansas Democrat Gazette – 3,418 s-r (1.8 percent of 187,601).


    With one expection, none of those newspapers have been able to signup a number of digital edition subscribers equal to one-tenths of one percent of that newspaper’s print circulation.

    Among the major reasons why these digital editions haven’t been popular – and we think it is safe to state that editions with so few subscribers are clearly are unpopular – are that personal computer screens aren’t orientated or designed for reading broadsheet or tabloid formatted content; digital edition files are too large to comfortably download with any regularity; some digital editions require that subscribers first to download and run proprietary software; most digital editions don’t feature multimedia; and that most newspapers don’t promote and market their digital editions very well.

    The Arkansas Democrat Gazette‘s digital edition is somewhat successful. It’s achieved 30-times better subscribership relative to those other newspapers. The major reason for this is that its digital edition is offered as an equivalent product to its Web site, not a separate product.

    Neither Web sites nor digital editions are the answer for electronic publishing of newspapers. Both are worthwhile experiments. The future still holds the answer, and that answer will use technologies from both. But the answer’s technologies aren’t yet formed.

  • 5 thoughts on “Woeful Circulations for Digital Editions

    1. How do these numbers compare to sales of microfilm
      or to mail subscriptions at these papers.

      Isn’t that all these products really are — searchable microfilm or a quicker, alternative to mail.

      These products are not, nor will they ever become, a new media.

    2. “Neither Web sites nor digital editions are the answer for electronic publishing of newspapers”

      Well, newspaper websites do very well, don’t they? In Germany (where I live), page impressions at online editions of newspapers are skyrocketing. As long as they are free.
      That means: People do read newspapers online – thy just don’t want to pay for it.

      Ralph Schneider,
      Hannover, Germany

    3. Ralph:

      Many newspapers’ Web site do indeed generate large numbers of pageviews. However, Nielsen//Netratings, ComScore MediaMetrix, and other auditing agencies show that the average user of those sites visits only about 3 times per month. Compare that with 30+ times per month usage by print edition subscribers. So, people do read newspapers online, but infrequently and not enough for those Web editions to profit by publishing that way.

    4. I question your conclusion that people don’t read “free” (aka advertising supported) newspapers online “enough for those Web editions to profit by publishing that way.” You’re concentrating on average visits per person when that’s not the only relevant factor in making a profit from advertising. The total numbers matter, too. So does the fact that the Web site may be reaching a certain number of people who would never interact with the publication otherwise.

      Does your disappointing “three-times-a-month” figure take into account the number of non-local visitors who only view one article all month or ever? Many newspaper Web sites surely have a significant number of visitors who come from an Internet search or aggregate site like news.google.com – people who aren’t looking to establish an ongoing once-a-day interaction with that particular publication, but only want one article about the topic they’ve chosen or about a local news event of national interest. Doesn’t that category of viewer drive the overall average number of visits per person down? Why abandon those “one-hit wanderers” if it’s still possible to make money by serving them advertising that’s either national or targeted specifically to the reader’s interests or geographic location.

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