After years of relentless losses, newspapers are finally enjoying circulation growth due to digital subscriptions -- at least in some cases. The overall picture remains decidedly mixed, with circs continuing to fall at many local, regional and national papers, according to the latest figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Out of 50 national, regional, and local newspapers of varying sizes, 17 (34%) saw their average weekday circulation grow or remain the same between September 2012 and September 2013, while 33 (66%) suffered declines over the same period.
On the positive side, the list of newspapers experiencing growth included The New York Times, which pioneered the digital subscription model in March 2011 and saw its total circ increase 17.6% from 1,897,890 in September 2012 to September 2013. Over the same period the Chicago Tribune grew 10.1% to 453,568, the Los Angeles Times rose 4.7% to 671,797, and the San Jose Mercury News edged up 2.5% to 571,804.
Among mid-sized and smaller metro dailies, the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama enjoyed the biggest gain, with a 22% increase to 113,760, followed by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, up 17.8% to 265,099. Substantial increases were also seen at the Boston Globe, up 10% to 253,373; the Austin American-Statesman, up 9.7% to 130,457; the Houston Chronicle, up 9.4% to 356,347; the Dayton Daily News, up 7.7% to 95,282; the San Diego Union Tribune, up 6.5% to 222,541, and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, up 7.8% to 151,413. The Tampa Tribune edged up 4.8% to 181,589, the Philadelphia Inquirer 4.6% to 310,002 and the New Haven Register 3.9% to 68,148.
But there was still a litany of bad news for newspapers whose digital sub strategies have failed to get traction, or simply don’t exist: from September 2012 to September 2013 weekday circ fell 12.1% at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to 153,078; 11.8% at the Little Rock, AR, Democrat Gazette, to 146,292; 11.2% at the Lexington, KY, Herald-Leader, to 73,276; 11.1% at the Phoenix Republic, to 245,133; 10.8% at the Cincinnati Enquirer, to 117,754; 10.1% at the Jacksonville, FL, Times-Union, to 82,340; 9.8% at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to 161,343; 9.5% at the Nashville Tennessean, to 94,263; 8.5% at the Newark Star-Ledger, to 285,249; 8.3% at the Orlando Sentinel, to 172,675; and 8% at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, to 96,957. The Washington Post, which introduced an online paywall in June, saw total weekday circ fall 6.6% to 431,521.
In some cases it’s clear that online paywalls failed to have much impact at all: total weekday circulation remained flat at the San Francisco Chronicle, at around 212,179, and edged up 0.4% at the Dallas Morning News, to 411,929. It’s probably no coincidence that both newspapers recently decided to scrap their paywalls and return to a free access model.