Strib weekday circ falls 4 percent, Sundays down 8; PiPress up slightly (Update 2)

[Updated at 11:20 a.m. with PiPress daily circ figures]

According to a new Audit Bureau of Circulations report, the Star Tribune’s weekday circulation fell 4.2 percent for the year ending September 2008 and the Sunday numbers plunged 8.6 percent.

The Minneapolis-based paper sold 322,360 Monday-Friday copies, down from 335,443 in September 2007. Sunday numbers fell to 520,828 from 570,443.

The Strib’s 4.2 percent year-to-year weekday decline represents something of an improvement — circulation fell 6.5 percent between September 2006 and 2007. Two years ago, the Strib’s weekday circulation stood at 358,887.

Also, the Strib’s weekday drop was sixth-smallest among the nation’s 22 biggest non-national dailies. (I’m not counting USA Today, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.)

Sunday’s deeper plunge is more troubling, since that’s the most profitable edition. As recently as September 2006, the Strib sold 596,000 papers that day of the week.

Here, the Strib’s drop was the sixth biggest among the Top 24 non-national Sunday papers.

To be sure, many of those subscribers now read the Strib online. The paper ranks third nationally in readers’ “time spent on site” according to Editor & Publisher — a hefty 32 minutes, 11 seconds per session, up from 27:49 a year earlier.

The problem is that online still brings in a sliver of print’s revenue at a time when the paper needs every dime it can get. The Strib’s owners missed debt payments this summer and fall.

There was happier news — again — for the Pioneer Press. From September 2007 to 2008, daily circ was up 0.3 percent, to 184,973 copies, while Sunday numbers rose 0.2 percent to 246,431.

Caution: publishers can play a lot of games with circulation — discounting, using “third party” sales that don’t really grab the kind of loyal customers advertisers want — etc. There’s some good discussion going on in this story’s comments; please read and join in.

If I have any more updates, I’ll throw them into Braublog. Please check it out; it’s just a few days old and I’d love feedback.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/27/2008 - 08:42 am.

    My guess on the reason for the uptick on PiPress Sunday edition: unlike the Strib, the PiPress still publishes a weekly television guide on Sundays.

    That’s why I made the switch. A bonus: it’s cheaper, too.

  2. Submitted by brian flanagan on 10/27/2008 - 09:30 am.

    Each time I see an article that mentions the decline of newspaper circulation, they forget to mention their websites.

    I looked up http://www.alexa.com which moniters webtraffic.

    Your website looks like it grew at the launch, and has held steady at about 150,000. The Pioneer Press appears to be in slow decline (which I never would have expected).

    The StarTribune appears to be growing, and dwarfs both your’s and the Pioneer Press. It appears to be the largest local website by far.

    What can we conclude?

    That viewing ‘circulation=relevance’ is wrong. The Strib appears to be growing it’s audience overall, while yours is holding steady. The Pioneer Press appears to be actually declining overall.

    You should clear up your definition of ‘circulation decline.’

    Overall, I find your website imformative.

  3. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/27/2008 - 10:01 am.

    Brian –

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    There’s no doubt the Strib is the big web dog among us, and MinnPost will never run in that particular company size-wise.

    My point in the story above isn’t that circulation = relevance (though it’s a component) but that circulation = profits (still — online isn’t remotely there yet, margin-wise).

    For a paper that can’t pay its debt, this kind of loss, especially on Sundays, is important.

    I did make sure to add some context about the online side in my first update.

    You make a good point that the Strib’s reach has vastly expanded via the web. Interestingly, though, the paper’s local market penetration has actually slipped a smidge in recent years, even with web readership taken into account.

    In other words, on the metro level, the rise in online readership isn’t overcoming the print decline.

    However, the Strib is gaining a lot of national readers it never had, and hopefully it can monetize that. Most of their ads still seem local, though, at least on this local’s computer.

  4. Submitted by edward allen on 10/27/2008 - 10:49 am.

    How much of this circulation drop is deliberate? There has been a trend in the industry to cut off far-out circulation and concentrate on the close-in areas that advertisers pay for. I think this is terribly mistaken, but I don’t run a newspaper. Another trend impacting circulation is dropping stores and street boxes that sell few newspapers. Saves on distribution costs.
    On the Internet comment, 150,000 is not a good number to take to the bank. Much of that is single hit, not return customers. Print circulation is used by advertisers to determine ads, but Internt ads are less driven by the smaller numbers. I would also note that Internet ad rates are dropping through the floor, so if there is some hope that Internet revenues will make up for losses in the dead-tree product, it is highly mistaken.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/27/2008 - 10:59 am.

    Edward –

    There’s no doubt publishers are squeezing a lot of stupid circulation out the system – less lucrative “third party” sales that pumped up numbers for advertisers but weren’t the core readers advertisers really wanted.

    And yes, papers have retrenched from further-flung deliveries to focus on target markets. That may make sense, or they may be cutting off loyalists who would’ve otherwise stood by them.

    However, these trends have been going on for several six-month cycles now. Yours is a good point that some of the drop = efficiency, but certainly not all or (I’d guess) most.

  6. Submitted by Greg Prince on 10/27/2008 - 11:53 am.

    There is a certain number of people who will always choose something seen to originate out of St. Paul over Minneapolis (or vice versa) no matter what, it seems the Pioneer Press may be approaching that floor from which point the only direction is up?

    As the web discussion shows, print media is a shrinking market, and a lot of people who subscribe do so for reasons other than the paper itself – how many people are more interested in the Sunday Comics and the advertising supplements than in the “news” portion of the paper? I suspect if the comics section of the PiPress were up to snuff the Strib would see even faster erosion. This is made worse by perceptions that the Strib is falling down on the job in its reporting, especially its political reporting.

  7. Submitted by Joel Kramer on 10/27/2008 - 12:16 pm.

    Brian,

    You write that alexa.com shows MinnPost traffic stable while Strib’s is growing. Actually, the “global reach” measure at alexa today shows MinnPost’s three-month average up 14%, while the Star Tribune’s is up 1%. Pioneer Press is down 3%, and City Pages is down 20%. Of course, as David points out, we remain smaller than those sites, but we are growing.

  8. Submitted by Chris Clonts on 10/27/2008 - 12:44 pm.

    Without getting into the horribly tangled debate about web-traffic measurement, many take Alexa’s sampling-based numbers with a grain of salt. And since Alexa is a measure of overall internet reach, it might be a poor judge of primarily local sites.

    Among other services, we (as does StarTribune.com) use Omniture’s SiteCatalyst, an industry standard in traffic measurement.

    Our numbers show that we are are posting double digit increases year-over-year in both page views and monthly unique visitors as users respond to our locally focused content.

    Thanks

    Chris Clonts
    Pioneer Press | TwinCities.com

  9. Submitted by brian flanagan on 10/27/2008 - 02:15 pm.

    Gentlemen,

    I appreciate the time you took to answer my email.

    I find this very interesting. I will check into mediaaudit.com(private polling), neilsenratings.com (private), quantcast.com (public) to see how all three websites are doing.

    As with any media measure, it is extremely subjective. I understand any business (StarTribune included) will try to position themselves in the best possible light.

    I am confused over the automtic assumption that less circulation = less revenue. Are you privy to cost-cutting measures at the Strib? It could be that there are things going on that you are not privy too.

    I believe it is best for the Twin Cities that the Strib, PP, MinnesotaMoniter and you are viable in this market.

    Thanks again!

  10. Submitted by paul chroati on 10/27/2008 - 08:15 pm.

    I believe the gentleman has a good point.

    ‘Circulation’ is a relative term. If the StarTribune has a popular website, then ‘circulation’ needs to include that growth if there is one as part of the equation. Mr. Kramer said their website grew 1% which needs to be accounted for overall numbers vs. last year. I believe your headline is misleading.

    As for the financial well-being, I pray both the StarTribune and Pioneer Press are around for a long time. I enjoy reading them each day. I also enjoy the community newspaper Highlander.

    I don’t think any of us can judge how another company is doing without having direct access to their books.

  11. Submitted by brian flanagan on 10/28/2008 - 08:55 am.

    StarTribune mentioned today in the newspaper that there overall audience grew – when you incorporate digital audience – by quite a bit.

    I believe their web audience grew an astounding 22%.

    It does not mention the Pioneer Press webaudience for the same time period.

    Does anyone know the overall Pioneer Press audience increase (or decrease) when their website is included?

    Be interested to know the numbers.

    I don’t think newspapers are losing relevance, just need to adjust their business model.

  12. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 10/28/2008 - 12:27 pm.

    Websites like MinnPost that don’t have time limits on stories do better in web-based key word searches.

  13. Submitted by brian flanagan on 10/29/2008 - 03:52 pm.

    David,

    Thanks for amending your article to include StarTribune.com. What is the web traffic for PioneerPress? Is it up or down?

    Thank you!

  14. Submitted by paul chroati on 10/29/2008 - 07:19 pm.

    Brian,

    I checked a couple of sites. Not sure if they are accurate though.

    Said the Pioneer Press’s website (remember it is TwinCities.com) is way behind the StarTribune, WCCO, and KARE11. Not sure why, but it looks like it declined in September.

    I saw the Strib article about it’s circulation being down, but it’s website is way up. I must say it is convenient to read the Strib.com. I like the layout.

    I like WCCO.com weather page though better than the Stribs. WCCO has the best weather web site.

    Don’t much care for KARE11 or the PioneerPress’ sites.

    Paul

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