Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Newspaper circulation -- injecting some reality

The Washington Post has an article today on the circulation scandals in Chicago and elsewhere. Nice job, comprehensive, and all that.

But in the middle is this:
The troubles come as U.S. newspapers have been steadily losing circulation since 1987, the last year that nationwide average circulation increased, according to the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group. Chief among the causes are changing lifestyles -- people have less time to read a paper every day -- and the rise of other sources of news and information, such as cable television news channels.

Well, yes. But we need to inject a little reality into this. The statement above has become the mantra of the U.S. newspaper industry, and certainly there is truth to it. But not the whole truth. What the chains don't tell you is how much circulation they intentionally have shed in this time. As late as the mid-1990s, many states had a dominant paper or two with statewide or regional bureaus, early state editions designed to reach the tiniest hamlets, etc. Most of those have now been shed as newspapers, fighting to pare costs, have pulled back into what they see as their defensible market areas. Maybe there is a study out there that shows how many readers have been dropped as a result; I've not seen one. But it is not insignificant and, I would imagine, totals tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of readers.

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