Newspaper circulation dips, online readership climbs

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The Newspaper Association of America has released data showing the most drastic decline in newspaper circulation in 15 years.

All but three of the nation's top 25 daily newspapers reported a decrease in average daily circulation in the past year. The average daily circulation of 770 U.S. newspapers fell 2.8 percent in the six months ending Sept. 30. Sunday circulation declined an average of 3.4 percent.

"Overall the decline was 2.8 percent, but some papers had a much larger rate than that," said Jouette Travis, executive vice president and managing director for Carat USA. "Papers are independent, yet they get bought together as a medium, so I think that advertisers and agencies will begin to look at them separately."

USA Today, the leading U.S. paper in terms of circulation, reported a 1.32 percent slip while the second-ranked Wall Street Journal fell 1.94 percent. The Los Angeles Times, ranked fourth, saw the largest drop among the nation's top 25, declining more than 8 percent.

"A big advertiser drop may happen, but I think that most individuals will look paper by paper, so those publications with large declines should be careful about rate increases," Ms. Travis said. "On the other hand, papers are aware of this, so I don't think media buyers will not buy anymore."

Meanwhile, The Washington Times gained nearly 4 percent, improving to 1,000,074. The New York Post overtook the Daily News, climbing 5.12 percent while the Daily News went up 1.04 percent.

"This might cause media service companies to alter their media plans, but it also might cause people to think of something else to use on the market like revisiting and getting more serious about their online products," Ms. Travis said.

In its analysis of Audit Bureau of Circulations data, the NAA said that total readership is up as far as Web site visits, newspaper sharing and other factors are considered. Nielsen//NetRatings recorded a 23.9 percent rise in visitors to newspaper Web sites in the third quarter of 2006, as the number of visitors is now 57 million. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, 17 of the top 25 papers showed a net audience gain of 20 percent or more online.

"Places where newspapers still deliver door to door is up," Ms. Travis said. "I think that part is not done yet."

Readers spend an average of more than 41 minutes monthly visiting online newspaper sites, up 10.9 percent over this time last year, the NAA said.

"I think it will run parallel to what the airlines did, in that newspapers will have to offer specials online and gravitate people away from the phone and the ticket counter," Ms. Travis said. "Newspapers need to shift their delivery vehicle and have more online than they used to."

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