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Star Tribune, Pioneer Press shed weekday print, gain circulation

Updated below with Pioneer Press web and app stats.

Thanks to e-editions and apps, the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press reported circulation gains in the six months ending March 31, according to statistics released Tuesday morning. The Strib was up 4 percent on Sunday and 1 percent weekdays; the PiPress was up 6 percent on Sundays and weekdays.

Does this all add up to more money for journalism? That’s a trickier question, since the Audit Bureau of Circulations figures include more heavily discounted subscriptions and even digital copies a “subscriber” might not have paid for. I’ll have a follow-up post later today with input from Strib and PiPress execs.

Anyway, the higher top-lines weren’t thanks to print: though Sunday sales held steady from March 2011 at both papers (0.1 percent Strib gain, 0.3 percent Pioneer Press), what may be the final weekday die-off has begun in earnest. Monday-Friday print down 5 percent at the Strib and 10 percent at the Pioneer — which, perhaps fittingly, is now managed by a company called “Digital First.”

The Strib sold 475,955 Sunday editions, up about 600 copies, and 239,797 weekday print editions, roughly 12,000 fewer. At the PiPress, Sunday print totalled 237,531, up about 800, and weekdays were 129,269, down about 14,000.

(The stats do not break out less valuable lucrative “third-party” sales like those to schools, hotel and employees. That breakdown comes in a few weeks.)

What more than filled the gap? “Digital replica and non-replica editions” — basically, PDFs of the print edition and tablet/smartphone apps. In many cases, papers bundle the Sunday paper with weekday digital, which helps explain steady weekend and waning weekday print.

(Profitability can rise if print production/distribution savings exceed any ad-revenue losses, though that’s far from a sure thing.)

Strib digital gains came via replicas. Sunday soared 88 percent to 36,373, while weekday rose 26 percent to 54,769. There were only 2,129 non-replicas. The PiPress replicas gained 23 percent on Sunday and 28 percent weekdays to 21,908 and 64,530 respectively. They added 11,372 non-replicas from iPad/iPhone apps. Those apps are free, by the way.

There are suggestions the Strib’s metered pay wall, introduced last fall, affected a category ABC calls “reach,” which combines print and digital readership within a local market.

Totalling up those who saw print in any given week with the web in any given month, the Strib was up 1.3 percent in the “designated market area” (which covers much of Minnesota) and the PiPress gained 3.1 percent. In the smaller, self-designated “net market area,” the Strib was down 0.3 percent while the PiPress gained 5.8 percent.

Meanwhile, ABC says 6.8 million “unique users” accessed the Strib’s website daily, compared to 2 million for the PiPress.

[Update: The PiPress claims 18.6 million March webpage views, up 56 percent from a year earlier, and 2.6 million mobile page views, up 158 percent.]

Like I said, more analysis to come.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Bob Collins on 05/01/2012 - 08:30 am.

    PDF vs. paper

    I’d love to see some sort of statistic that shows how much time people spend with a PDF version of the newspaper vs. the real thing. I’ll bet the gulf is huge.

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 05/01/2012 - 09:49 am.

    I’m old school and buy the dead tree version

    I still pick up the daily paper — either the Stib or PiPress — just about every day. We used to get both papers delivered at work, but that was cut for cost savings.

    I’m no stranger to online media (I’m here, right?), but I still like the feel of newsprint in my hands.

    In any case, thanks for the new numbers. I communicate to others via these papers from time to time, and it’s important for me to get an idea just how many people our message may be reaching.

  3. Submitted by Adam Platt on 05/01/2012 - 09:40 am.

    Value of Digital Readers

    Do either of the newspapers release any metrics to help understand how digital subscribers/users are valued by advertisers, in the current market? Does the loss of a print subscriber, who turns into a paid online subscriber, negatively impact bottom line, or is it a wash?

    These digital numbers seem impressive, and I know the web community likes to trumpet them, but I’ve never seen a print publication whose online readers are valued equivalently by advertisers to its print readers.

    • Submitted by David Brauer on 05/01/2012 - 10:30 am.

      Great question

      Will ask in the follow ups.

      There’s no doubt in my mind that some digital circulation is better than others. Strib CEO Mike Klingensmith once pegged each paid digital subscription at about $100 per user. There’s undoubtedly decent profit there, since production/distribution costs are nil. That has to be much better than the digital non-replica (app) user who never pays – a category that is also included in today’s figures. (There will be more on this in my follow-up story.)

      The other variable is whether the digital user is new to the enterprise, or cannibalizing print, and whether the print profit “lost” comes anywhere near the digital profit “gained,” if any.

      The Strib, especially, has been very candid that circulation revenue is expected to become a larger share of total revenues, so they are trying to manage the print-ad decline that way, in part.

  4. Submitted by Matthew Zabka on 05/07/2012 - 04:29 pm.


    Great article. I love holding the paper in my hands and hope print journalism in the Twin Cities stays strong for the next 100 years. Looking forward to your followup.

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