Star Tribune, Pioneer Press say circulation revenue is up

OK, final post on this, I think. I’ve corresponded with both papers about today’s Fall 2009 FAS-FAX circulation numbers, and here’s what they’re saying.

Pioneer Press publisher Guy Gilmore characterizes his side’s circulation stability (up 0.1 percent on Sunday’s and weekdays, roughly duplicating 2007 and 2008) as “rock solid.” Skeptics say the PiPress has only done this with discounting — famously, the buck-a-year home-delivery offer and buck-a-year e-Edition.

The PiPress response is as consistent as their circ, along the lines of “Sure, we discount, sometimes aggressively for new readers, but we raise prices elsewhere and wind up boosting our profit.”

The paper focuses on Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday home delivery and single copy in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties. Bottom line: PiPress circulation revenues have increased and circulation expenses decreased for four consecutive years, Gilmore says.

Believe it or not, the Strib says somewhat the same thing about its circulation net results. If you eye the paper’s 8.5 percent Sunday circ drop (worse than the national average) and 5 percent weekday drop (far better), you might find that hard to believe. But spokesman Ben Taylor says year-to-date circulation revenue has increased 1.8 percent compared to 2008.

Taylor didn’t cite a dollar figure, but based on Chapter 11 data, I estimate this translates to between $600,000 and $800,000 and could hit $1 million by year’s end. That definitely won’t replace $50 million in ad spending the Strib could lose this year — and ad bucks are the real anchor weighing down major American newspapers. 

Still, Taylor notes that revenue per 1,000 copies is up 7 percent, in part because discounting (mass sales to hotels, schools, etc.) is down 31 percent. That’s a smart and overdue business move, part of what Taylor calls “a strategy aimed at increasing revenue from an audience that values the product rather than increasing volume with a marginal audience.”

Theoretically, advertisers pay a lot more about the former audience than the latter.

The Strib also hiked non-metro prices a quarter, affecting 22,000 weekday and 33,000 Sunday editions. But that’s not even 10 percent of total circ. Raising Twin Cities prices — which I think is inevitable — is far riskier. The Strib was the only paper in the Top 25 with bigger Sunday circ losses than on weekdays, despite touting the value proposition of “print-only” stories.

Could they risk hiking the price of their fattest ad edition in such circumstances? And if they only raise daily prices, how much revenue can that bring in?

Of course, the Strib is looking at new revenue sources, a la Access Vikings, even though those fees remain puny for now. Welcome to the challenges facing the new owners, new board of directors and — one of these days? — a new publisher. 

Finally, some readers have asked about how the papers are doing as combined print-web enterprises — after all, that’s what they are, even if newsprint still lures 90-plus percent of the ad dollars.

The FAS-FAX reports don’t contain much data on this, but the trend as of March was shrinking metro market penetration for both properties. Yes, they have far bigger national and global audiences, but almost all revenue still comes from the home market.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by karl anderson on 10/27/2009 - 08:52 am.

    I looked at a recent Audit (as of April 2009). In order of Twin Cities audience:


    PP came in 8th…

    Again, looking just at print is the wrong way to look at this. The narrative that fewer people are reading the newspaper, you would be incorrect.

    The issue isn’t audience, it is restructuring their business model.

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