Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Circulation erosion worse at big city papers

It's an understatement to say a lot of things have changed in the newspaper business in the past 10 years. One change is that the major metropolitan newspapers have lost a larger percentage of their readers than smaller papers.

The state's five largest papers had a combined weekday circulation of 2.6 million in 1999, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Ten years later, the big five have lost 778,167 and are down to a combined 1.8 million. That's a drop of 30 percent.
                      Weekday circulation
1999 2009 change
LA Times 1,098,347 723,181 -375,166 -34.2%
Chron 456,742 354,752 -101,990 -22.3%
SD U-T 381,256 261,253 -120,003 -31.5%
SacBee 293,737 248,855 -44,882 -15.3%
OC Register 367,003 230,877 -136,126 -37.1%

Total 2,597,085 1,818,918 -778,167 -30.0%

Smaller papers also lost circulation during the 10 year period, but not nearly as much. One paper, the Contra Costa Times, remained almost even.
                     Weekday circulation
1999 2009 change
Coco Times 187,119 185,699 -1,420 -0.8%
SJ Merc 294,894 227,119 -67,775 -23.0%
Santa Rosa P-D 94,264 69,812 -24,452 -25.9%
Marin IJ 40,850 28,281 -12,569 -30.8%
San Mateo Times 35,357 27,345 -8,012 -22.7%
Monterey Hearld 35,077 27,306 -7,771 -22.2%
Santa Cruz Sen. 27,333 22,137 -5,196 -19.0%
Vallejo Times 20,612 15,817 -4,795 -23.3%
Napa V Register 19,352 14,497 -4,855 -25.1%

Total 754,858 618,013 -136,845 -18.1%
The nine smaller papers only lost 18 percent of their circulation compared to 30 percent for the big papers. Reasons may include the fact that the suburbs are growing faster than the larger cities. And smaller papers serve up local news, which readers crave, while the big papers can't provide much local coverage because of their size.

Notes:
    1. In 1999, the Chronicle was part of a joint operating agreement with the Examiner. For purposes of this study, only the Chronicle's Monday-Friday circulation was compared to the Chron's current weekday figure of 354,752.

    2. The Oakland Tribune wasn't apart of this comparison because its circulation today includes newspapers such as the Hayward Review and Fremont Argus that had separate circulation reports in 1999. It was hard to get a clean apples-to-apples comparison for the Trib, so it was left out.

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