As the six-month ABC circulation numbers become official today, we see how evenly distributed the pain is, all over the country. The overall pain: daily down 2.1%, and -- most ominously -- Sunday down another 3.1%
Not much is working. Gary Pruitt’s strategy of getting out
of higher-cost, lower-growth markets hasn’t helped McClatchy (down 3.6% daily and 3.9% Sunday) much. Lee’s
strategy of massive staff retraining and marketing the hell of niche products maybe meant less decline (.3 percent daily and 1.3 percent Sunday). Both companies – which analysts and investors saw as
the prettiest of a plain-faced lot of publishers not long ago – have seen share
In looking at the numbers, we see:
- Problems across the sunbelt, as the Sunday numbers take your breath away. Down 10.1% at the Miami Herald. Down 13.3% at the Dallas Morning News, 7.2% at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Losses at two papers critical to our national reporting, especially as major metros cut back on their own national and global coverage. The Washington Post lost 3.2% Sunday and 3.4% daily. The New York Times lost 3.3% Sunday and 1.9% daily.
- The San Jose Mercury News sees a 4.9% daily decline and 4.4% Sunday loss -- those in a local economy that’s chugging along ahead of the pack. Recall that the Merc already has cut about one-third of its newsroom staff since 2000.
Yes, newspapers are making a point of total reach, adding up paid daily, niche print and online. The problem though is that the online isn't monetizing fast enough to offset print losses, even as media buyers struggle to make sense of what that total reach really means.
The bad news runs the table.
For the industry, it’s water torture. In each of the last 5 reporting periods, stretching back to the end of ’04, we see the effects of the drip. At least a 2% drop in Sunday (okay, a 1.9% in there somewhere) and daily each period. The foundation rock of paid circulation has been dented for decades by little drops. TV, cable TV, busier two-career households, the endlessly frustrating “no-time-to-read”. But the Internet spigot really poured in on recently. Other contributors to the current decline: continuing cuts in third-party and farther-flung circulation.
Whatever the many causes, the dent is now a hole, a hole in the paid circ mass market that has long sustained the industry’s business model.
Newspaper revenue is largely based on delivering a massive market of local attention – delivering impressions. It’s no accident that the 1Q earnings reports showed double-digit declines in classifieds and declining retail and national numbers. There’s a direct correlation between that revenue decline and toll of circ shortfalls, and media buyers are connecting the dots.
The industry’s got to be most concerned about the publicity
of this further Sunday decline, down 3.1% on average.
Sunday has increasingly become market day for newspapers, with many earning more than half their ad income on that single day of seven. Sunday circ, in this report and in previous ones, is heading downward even faster daily. That’s an overall problem, but one with a specific concern: preprints. The Sunday circulars have been the part of the ad pie least affected by Internet competition. Now as everyone from Google to Spotrunner targets niches, and retailers see increasing alternatives to mass-is-mass preprints, that business is threatened.
Really, today’s report offers no surprise. But, if possible, it adds even more urgency to the transformation ahead.