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Star Tribune, Pioneer Press shed weekday print, gain circulation

Sunday print isn’t dead, but new newspaper circulation figures indicate Monday through Saturday is on the wane as digital editions soar.

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.”

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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.]

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Like I said, more analysis to come.