Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Circulation Falls (Updated)

We pondered the latest daily newspaper circulation figures yesterday without yet knowing what the numbers for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette were. Now we know.

According to the newspaper:

The state’s largest newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, slipped by 0. 4 percent Monday through Friday, to 182, 212 from 183, 034, after showing a slight increase in that category for the year-earlier period.

Average Sunday circulation for the more than 500 dailies that report to the agency fell 4. 6 percent compared with the year earlier period, the Audit Bureau of Circulations said Monday.

Sunday circulation at the Democrat-Gazette fell 0. 7 percent, to 274, 494 from 276, 310. Saturday circulation at the newspaper fell 0. 5 percent, to 179, 747 from 180, 698.

Noting the plunge in circ that other major metros reported during this latest six-month survey period, Paul Smith, the Democrat-Gazette’s president and general manager, said the paper was pleased with its performance and noted that the paper is again No. 1 in “city zone” penetration.

Walter Hussman, the DG publisher who this month was named Editor & Publisher magazine’s Publisher of the Year, had some interesting comments. Hussman has criticized many newspapers’ Web strategies, saying that it’s a mistake to give away news online for free. Most content on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Web site remains locked down to print subscribers — even the Associated Press content you can get most anywhere else for free.

More on Hussman’s comments and DG circ after the jump.

Discussing his latest circ figures with E&P on Monday, Hussman credited charging for online content for keeping the DG’s circ on the rise. And he added that

… free news on other Web sites could explain the recent drop in circulation.

“Our home delivery circulation is up, but single-copy sales are off, and the reason for the overall decrease,” Hussman told E&P. “The instant availability of news, for free, on desktops, laptops, Treos, iPhones, etc. — not to mentions multiple cable channels — is our best guess for the continuing softness in single copy. It is hard to compete with free.”

Indeed. That might be why in northwest Arkansas, where Hussman is fighting a newspaper war with Stephens Media, stories from that regional edition of the DG are online for free. The Arkansas Times blog points out other ways Hussman has used “free” in the past to battle competitors. I guess sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug.

It goes without saying that Hussman and other daily newspaper publishers are in a pickle. Print circ is down because you can go online and get most of content you’ll find in your daily paper for free. And online, you can interact with, share and track news content in ways that you can’t in print. Online, newspaper content has more value.

That’s the irony that newspaper publishers are struggling with. Readers clearly see the greater value in online content, but the free nature of the Web makes them unwilling to pay for it, unless it’s highly valuable information you simply can’t get anywhere else. And rarely does content in a general circulation daily newspaper meet that standard.

Advertisers aren’t completely there, either. While Internet advertising is on the rise, it has still yet to reach the level of spending that could supplant print advertising. Advertising Age, in its “Newspaper Death Watch” series, notes that

Even at The New York Times Co., whose gets more unique visitors than any other paper’s site, print revenue still made up 90% of last year’s total.

Advertising revenue on a revamped DG Web site, or any other “newspaper” site, cannot now equal the revenue the print product attracts. And it’s that revenue that pays the bills, including salaries for the reporters, photographers and editors who create the valuable content readers value.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that the traditional model of the daily newspaper is dying, and few publishers are doing much to improve upon it. Meanwhile, the Internet continues to innovate. First it was classifieds, now it’s news, tomorrow it’ll be obits – the bleeding won’t stop.


3 Responses

  1. Great analysis, Lance. Online content does provide more value to me as a reader, with less time than it takes to scan full articles, search through jumps and clear off an entire section of my dining room table. Simply easier, cleaner, faster and more convenient to read the news online, and to follow links to read more about content that interests me.

    As an online news reader, I can design a reading experience tailored to me by scanning headlines, following links and even viewing streaming media. A printed newspaper only offers me one version, one story, one experience. It’s a limited model by comparison.

  2. […] newspaper circulation and notes Advertising Age’s “Newspaper Death Watch” piece we noted in passing the other day. He also finds an interesting guestimate from Henry Blodget on where all that print […]

  3. […] how bad it is to give away news online (even though he gives it away free in northwest Arkansas), which we’ve covered here before. Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times has a summary here, which includes this critique: Newspapers […]

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