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

The Strib’s Monday-Friday circulation keeps falling, with Sunday’s plunge especially troubling. Meanwhile the PiPress shows stability, at least on Sunday.
By David Brauer

[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.

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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.