The fall Audit Bureau of Circulations paid figures are out, and the Star Tribune is still bleeding.
For the six months ending Sept. 30, the Strib sold 477,562 Sunday papers, a drop of 8.3 percent from a year earlier. As recently as 2005, the Strib sold 636,000 Sunday papers.
On weekdays, sales totaled 304,543, a 5.5 percent annual decline.
Meanwhile, the Pioneer Press continued its trend of minuscule gains: up 0.1 percent on Sundays and weekdays, to 246,680 and 185,220 papers respectively. These days in the newspaper industry, even that skinny rise is way above average.
I’ll try to get comments from company officials later today, along with further details including web numbers.
A few notes, historical and otherwise:
Since 2005, the Pioneer Press has shown tiny but consistent growth — about as tiny as it comes, between 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent on both Sundays and weekdays.
The Strib, meanwhile, has taken it on the chin, with Sunday numbers dropping between 4.4 and 8.6 percent annually, and weekdays between 4.2 and 6 percent. In the past year, the company, which was in bankruptcy all but three days of the six-month reporting period, has deliberately cut home-delivery and distribution in non-metro Minnesota.
Circulation data have a lot of moving parts, and while drops are almost always bad news, not all declines are created equal.
The numbers include so-called “other-paid” circulation: papers vended on the cheap to third-party providers such as hotels, as well as through school programs and to employees.
Once upon the (recent) time, these numbers impressed advertisers and made a mass medium look a bit more mass than it really is. In ’05, other-paid made up 6.3 percent of the Strib’s Sunday sales and 9 percent of weekday sales.
But amid the Ad Depression, cost-cutting papers have cut way down on other-paid because it wasn’t really generating revenue. The Strib has been aggressive in this regard, cutting other-paid Sunday sales from 40,000 in ’05 to 2,100 this fall, and from 34,000 to 8,200 on weekdays. Other-paid now accounts for under 1 percent of Sunday sales and 3 percent of weekday sales.
While the PiPress top-line circ number has been rock-steady, other-party numbers have bounced around, peaking in 2007 at 15,385 (Sundays) and 20,936 (weekdays), or about 6 percent and 11 percent of sales, respectively. The newest figures are 11,531 on Sundays and 8,667 on weekdays, about 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
The top-line paid-circ numbers also include e-Editions, digital replicas of the print paper that cost nearly nothing to make or deliver, and can be sold or added as print spiffs at a (often quite substantial) discount. Those numbers, especially at the Pioneer Press, have soared. The St. Paul paper reported zero e-Edition subscriptions in 2007; now it has 9,700 on Sunday and 31,100 on weekdays.
Strib figures are 4,400 Sundays and 25,200 weekdays.
ABC reports circulation every six months. Generally speaking, circ directors say the numbers are better compared year-to-year, rather than semi-annually, because of seasonal effects.