Monday, April 26, 2010

Urgent: USA Today's circulation tumbles 13.6%; pressure remains on Hunke to turn around daily

Gannett's marquee newspaper said circulation dived 13.58%, to 1,826,622 copies, in the six months ended March 31 from a year earlier, according to an industry group report released today. Still, that was an improvement over the previous six-month period, ended Sept. 30, when circulation plunged 17%, trade journal Editor & Publisher is reporting.

The Wall Street Journal topped this morning's Audit Bureau of Circulations list of the nation’s largest-circulation papers. The Journal was the only daily among the 10 largest to gain in the latest six-month period, E&P says.

Industry-wide, average daily circulation fell 8.7%. That's not as steep as the 10.6% drop in the last reporting period, which ran from April through September last year. Sunday circulation fell 6.5%. Even so, The New York Times says in its story: "The reality facing American newspaper publishers continues to look stark."

USA Today's report shows the paper is still reeling from a slowdown in its key readership market, business travelers -- one pinched by a deep recession that remains in a weak recovery. The paper is trying to claw back its circulation. It started selling papers last month in 6,500 Starbucks stores, for example, but that only began in the middle of the month -- too late in the latest ABC period to make a real dent.

Advertising rates are based on circulation, so the ongoing decline continues to weigh on the paper as it struggles to recover lost revenue. Gannett's recent first-quarter earnings report raised questions about USAT's progress in reversing those steep ad losses, which came on Publisher Dave Hunke's watch. He was named publisher a year ago this month.

What's more, the circulation tumble punches a hole in the paper's recently launched trade campaign, meant to burnish the USAT brand and boost advertising sales. The campaign's tag line -- "What America Wants" -- now risks becoming an industry punch line.

Top three dailies
remained No. 2 among the 10 largest, E&P says:

The Wall Street Journal
  • March 31, 2010: 2,092,523
  • March 31, 2009: 2,082,189
  • Change: +0.5%
USA Today
  • 1,826,622
  • 2,113,725
  • -13.58%
The New York Times
  • 951,063
  • 1,039,032
  • -8.47%
Related: The industry got some good news today -- well, sort of.

[Image: today's paper, Newseum]


  1. This is absolutely stunning news. What about putting the newspaper in Starbucks across the nation? People just aren't buying it. What an unmitigated disaster.

  2. I think USAT has lost its edge. It used to be feisty and interesting but now there is less in it. They missed some great stories on the mortgage crisis and the financial collapse. People want to know what happened to their 401Ks and why their neighbors are being foreclosed. USAT coverage was pedestrian, and I don't know why it was that way.

  3. Maybe Hunke should take USA Today to only three days a week, like he did in Detroit. Is it my imagination or what ... in Detroit and at USA Today he hasn't seen anything less than double-digit circulation drops each reporting period.

  4. Jim: Are you going to get access to the individual Gannett papers' circ. numbers, and publish them again?

  5. Bring in Mark Siverman to rescue USAT.

  6. Oh yeah, Silverman, Mr. Rude to the extreme. Was he the genius behind News 2000? Nothing new to that except busy work for low-level editors and reporters, which left the top guns with plenty of time to slap themselves on the back.

    News sells newspapers. If USA Today wants more readers it has to consistently produce hard-hitting news, not its usual limp product

  7. How does this ABC thing actually work in the nitty-gritty? Is it meant to be an average of the individual daily numbers over that entire six month period, or what?

    Six months is a long time. Too long to get a real sense of what the trend is inside that six month period, but one must exist. For instance, the head of Marriott hotels is saying they are just now starting to see pick up in business travel again.

  8. The ABC report is compiled on information the newspapers themselves provide. They used to do one a year, which was released in September, but that resulted in complaints that vacationers who canceled their subscriptions when they left town, didn't have the opportunity to resubscribe once they were back before the report was taken. That resulted in the March survey, which was regarded as a more stable period. Since the newspapers are providing the figures, there is considerable fudge in the report. That's where the ABC auditing part of it comes in, and supposedly the figures are checked. But since ABC gets its money from the news industry, it is sort of like the rating agencies that put aaa listings on subprime mortgage bonds. It is a one-time snapshot report for March, and not compiled over each of the six months. The newspapers have those figures. That's more than you wanted to know about ABC, but the report is important because national advertisers in particular use it to decide where to place their ads, and to price them.

  9. I was in a USAT section for up through last month. The reporters are stretched simply attempting to do the daily demands of what's expected of them these days -- what with sharply reduced staffing and feeding so many other various needs out there -- to make USAT the very good (but never great ... let's save that praise for the WSJ and the WashPost of the 1980s and other usual suspects) and often enterprising newspaper it was in the 1990s/early part of this decade.

    And these days, they got so many content mouths to feed ... Did you know they'll need to produce USA Weekend every week now too? This, given that most USAWers are now gone.

    Look at the effect of all of this: A newspaper that no one in their right mind should feel compelled to spend money on. Maybe on Fridays. And maybe not. There's simply nothing in it anymore and it doesn't do much in the informing or entertaining department anymore. And I was a fan too!

  10. You're stranded on a deserted island. Oddly, though, you have Internet access -- but only to one website.

    Which one site would you choose? (Mine would be the NYT's.)

  11. @11:53am

    Thanks. That's what I wanted --it's really a snapshot of March, not an attempt to average out October-March.

  12. So, sequentially (rather than year-over-year), it's down 3.5%, right? That's not great either, but it is probably a more useful metric right now rather than the Great Recession driven step-change that the other number represents. The next report will be the really indicative one --if they can't make that number go up, then "secular decline" is still very grim.

  13. 1:03 pm: I get 3.9% decline from last September 2009. In any case, though, you framed it very well: The next report will be even more important.

  14. why would a marketing company even care about circulation numbers?

  15. Jim--

    (1,891,604-1,826,622)/1,891,604 = 3.44%

    Perhaps you used a higher (but rounded) 1.9M base?

  16. So, the right-leaning paper with the paywall has as circulation gain, and the left-leaning papers (MSM) are in continual declines?

    I'm not surprised a bit by this.

    I would be surprised though, if corp. execs ever "get it" and adapt.

  17. The "right-leaning" WSJ is gaining ground because of its content, not its editorial position. The Journal's deep business coverage helps readers make smart investment choices, so they get rich. That's why people are willing to pay for online access. It's about value.

  18. 1:46 pm: Turns out, we're using different numbers. The ABC's database says USAT's circulation at Sept. 30 was 1,900,116.

    So: (1,900,116-1,826,622)/1,900,116 = 3.9%

  19. @Jim 2:20pm

    Ah. Looking at the footnote on the USAT page, I bet some kind of paid electronic circulation edition is the difference. They were trying to make it look like USAT is still higher than WSJ, so excluded e-editions.

    I get both my local daily papers (yes, we still have two in my region) as paid .pdfs that are exact replicas of the printed version. I prefer it that way, and it is cheaper. I take one of the Sundays as hardcopy for the sales circulars and to have at least some newsprint around the house for the traditional household useages of used newsprint. . .

  20. So....I guess raises aren't going to resume next week (May 1 would be 90 days from when they were extended, correct?)

  21. Dave Hunke needs to go. How about another scotch Dave?

  22. To 4/26/2010 11:53 AM:

    You obviously don't know what you are talking about and should stick to something you know!

    There are two six-month Publisher's statements that are not audited, one ending Spetember 30 and the other ending March 31. These are averages of the entire six-month period, not a snapshot of March. And March isn't even the best month of the year for most newspapers unless you are in Florida or other winter seasonal markets.

    Then there is the yearly ABC audit. This is the one ABC auditors check to match the money with the paper count and covers the complete year. It comes out much later because of all the auditing work that needs to be completed.

    You are a real moron and talk out of your ass!


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