U.S. newspaper circulation declines worsen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - If there’s one thing that the U.S. public is not giving newspapers, it’s their support.

A Los Angeles Times newspaper vending box is shown in front of the Times building in Los Angeles, California December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Paid weekday newspaper circulation in the six-month period that ended March 31 fell 7 percent to 34.4 million, compared with the same period last year, according to new figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).

That decline, which tracked 395 daily newspapers that had five-day-a-week circulation in both periods, accelerated from last year’s decline of 3.6 percent.

Sunday circulation at 557 papers fell more than 5 percent to 42.1 million. Last year, circulation fell 4.6 percent.

The declines may seem small, but the numbers tell a troubling story about the state of American newspapers.

Paid circulation has been trickling downward for several years, according to ABC figures.

While readership is up thanks to people sharing copies of their printed editions and readers on the Internet, advertisers continue to rely on paid circulation figures to determine what they want to pay to newspaper publishers to advertise.

As circulation continues to fall, more advertisers grow disenchanted with newspapers and seek other ways to get their message across to potential customers.

On the Internet, newspaper websites brought in more than 73 million monthly unique visitors in the first quarter of 2009, according to Nielsen Online and the Newspaper Association of America. Despite the figure, a 10.5 percent rise from last year, publishers have not found a way to charge enough for online ads to sustain their businesses as print declines.

Among the top 25 U.S. newspapers, only News Corp’s The Wall Street Journal scored a rise in total paid circulation, of 0.6 percent to 2.08 million.

In Sunday circulation, Gannett Co Inc’s Arizona Republic and Lee Enterprises Inc’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch scored less than 1 percent gains. The other members of the top 25 fell.

In daily circulation, Gannett’s USA Today remained the top-selling U.S. daily, but circulation fell 7.46 percent to 2.1 million as fewer guests checked into hotel rooms -- a prime source of readers for the nationwide paper.

The New York Times kept its spot as the No. 3 paper on weekdays, but paid circulation fell 3.55 percent to 1.04 million. It held the top spot in Sunday circulation with a 1.7 percent drop to 1.45 million copies.

Bankrupt Tribune Co’s Los Angeles Times, No. 4 on weekdays, took a 6.55 percent hit in weekday circulation and fell to 723,181 copies. On Sunday, it dropped 7.49 percent to 1.01 million copies, the No. 2 spot on the list.

Some papers saw their weekday circulation fall more than 15 percent, including the San Francisco Chronicle, which Hearst Corp said it might close; Advance Publications’ The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey; and the New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The Post’s weekday circulation fell 20.6 percent.

The Boston Globe, which parent company New York Times Co has threatened to shut down without cost cuts and union concessions, saw weekday circulation fell 13.68 percent.

Reporting by Robert MacMillan; Editing by Richard Chang