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Star Tribune paid circulation drops 8 percent on weekdays, 1 percent Sunday (with asterisk)

The Star Tribune’s weekday paid print circulation has fallen below 300,000 for the first time in many years, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released Monday.

The Star Tribune’s weekday paid circulation has fallen below 300,000 for the first time in many years, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released Monday. The Monday-Friday total paid number was 295,438, a 7.7 percent decline from the prior-year total of 320,119.

On the surface, the Sunday news appeared much better: the Strib only lost 1 percent of paid circ on the most profitable day of the week, to 493,024 from 497,679. However, that relatively balmy result was due in part to the Strib reclassifying a Saturday newsstand edition as an “early Sunday” paper, and moving the ad inserts into that edition. Saturday circulation dropped by 20 percent (from 334,040 to 266,101), indicating the shift.

In the March 2009 report, the Strib sold 27,411 Saturday editions at the newsstand; such a breakdown is not available on the newest “eFAS-FAX” report.

Educational-program sales, which can be used to pad the total-paid number, increased by 100 on Sunday and about 1,200 each weekday. However, third-party sales, which are heavily discounted, declined by a greater amount, roughly 2,000 per day.

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The FAS-FAX reports are unaudited (that report comes out in a few weeks), and contain no breakdown on discounting. The Strib’s e-edition sales (digital replicas of the print layout) rose to 7,619 on Sunday from 5,121 a year earlier, and to 28,337 on weekdays from 25,822. E-editions are often heavily discounted (though printing and distribution costs virtually disappear, too, so profit margins can actually rise). In some cases, the publisher is able to wheedle a few more bucks from existing print subscribers.

One final stat set: Despite the Strib’s print numbers decreasing, the number of people reading the print product rose. In a given 7-day period, the Strib reports 1.68 million readers in its “designated market area” and and 1.38 million readers in its “newspaper designated market” (NDM) which stretches from Hutchinson, Minnesota to Pierce County, Wisconsin and from Cambridge to Northfield. A year ago, the figures were 1.52 million and 1.32 million respectively. As a result, “market penetration” rose from 54.3 percent to 56.5 percent. 

This, too, may be a bit artful. Between 2007 and 2009, newspapers raised the so-called “pass-along rate” — which measures how many adults read a given issue — from 3.07 to 3.30. The results were based on survey data, publishers say.

The Strib’s online readership within the NDM in a given 30-day period rose 18 percent, from 613,000 from 520,000 a year earlier. Although the bulk of revenues still come from print, this could be a significant figure because local eyeballs can be worth more within the digital ad market.

Pioneer Press data coming next.