Monday, October 26, 2009

Puzzling over the R-J's circulation gain

The latest newspaper circulation data was released today and it was horrifying. The New York Times has shed 7.2% and is now below 1 million in sales per weekday, USA Today dropped 17 percent and lost its No. 1 ranking to the Wall Street Journal, and overall average daily circulation plunged 10.6 percent. See the report and list here.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, somewhat surprisingly, defied this trend in dramatic fashion. The circulation data is up 6.56 percent from 165,011 to 175,841. A small handful of papers went up.

I thought I had a hunch as to what had happened here. The reporting period was from April to October of 2009, and in April of 2009 came the single most significant moment in Nevada journalism, the Las Vegas Sun's Pulitzer Prize for Public Service reporting on the construction deaths at CityCenter. Could it be that the public thought, "Huh, that's a big deal, maybe I should take another look at the local paper"? Such an event wouldn't move the needle in a place like New York or Los Angeles where Pulitzers are a dime a dozen, but in a city of rootless migrants, maybe there's a curiosity effect similar to when a little movie wins an Oscar?

Would that it were so. And how bizarre that I've been disabused of my theory by none other than the Review-Journal's own brass. In Joe Strupp's Editor & Publisher report about the few circulation jumpers is this passage:

At the Las Vegas Review-Journal, executive are crediting their 6.56% increase, from 165,011 to 175,841, to a simple change in ABC rules that allow the paper's electronic edition to be counted in total circulation.

Steve Coffeen, director of corporate circulation for Stephens Media, which owns the Review-Journal, says the paper's print circulation is actually down seven percent daily and four percent on Sunday.

"I would say all of it is based on the electronic edition," Coffeen said of the increase. "We have about 20,000 electronic subscribers who were not allowed to be included before because of pricing rules. We didn't change anything, they changed the rules."

What a disappointment. Also, a curiosity. He says there are 20,000 electronic subscribers? I assume this is the electronic edition that looks just like the actual paper, not people who read stuff on their website. I must say, I have never, ever met or had any communication with anyone who subscribed to the local newspaper this way. You'd think the people who did so would be techies who also read blogs and such. Right? They're saying more than 11 percent of their readership does this?

Does that make sense?


Simon said...

I subscribe to the electronic version via the Kindle so that the paper is delivered in full daily to my device.

Some of the 20,000 may very well be Kindle version through Amazon.

I notice that you can only subscribe to the "eEdition" if you subscribe to the print edition. To count these subscribers as additional readers seems to be double dipping.

Anonymous said...

One word...."unemployment". More people unemployed equals more people looking for jobs the old fashioned way. The newspaper.


Simon... So you receive both, the print version and the electronic one? What does it cost? What about out of towners who can receive the print one? Can you explain more how it works? Thanks

mike_ch said...

You really want an RJ? Go to a 99 cent store. 49 cent regular editions and 99 cent Sundays. As much as I try to avoid the RJ, my Dad is foolishly attached of a tradition of Buying The Local Newspaper. Probably comes from a mix of old-fashionedness, plus living thirty years in a small commuter town that is ignored by your major broadcasting market city (San Francisco) unless it involves mass deaths or destruction, and so the town paper is all there is...

All my attempts to subvert that (TV newscasts plus loading the Sun's page once and a while, buying an out of town newspaper or USA Today, etc) doesn't seem to work. At least you can take solace that it probably costs Sherm more than 99 cents to make a Sunday paper.

Shaun said...

A newspaper's Kindle edition is separate from any other e-edition. It doesn't look like the printed edition at all -- there are no ads and few photos or graphics. I tried subscribing to the NY Times that way and found it a mixed experience. The most disappointing thing about it is that it's a fixed edition, like the printed paper, and isn't updated like the web, even though it's electronic. But it's a convenient and efficient way of reading a daily paper.

Jeff in OKC said...

I do not think it makes sense. Does the electronic edition include the Sun? That seems like a lot of electronic subscribers. I read the web site daily and don't see why it would be worth over $5 monthly to get it in electronic format.

Anonymous said...

It's untrue that you must subscribe to the print edition to get the eRJ. You can subscribe to eRJ for $2.50 per week while the print edition is more than $4 per week so it's a savings for those who prefer to get their newspaper online.

Simon said...


I live in Australia so getting the printed version of the LVRJ is impossible. Reading the paper once a day is enough for me as I don't require 'breaking news'.

The website only publishes a selection of stories and therefore doesn't give me a full picture.

I can subscribe to the Kindle version (through Amazon) without any formal subscription (printed or electronic) with the LVRJ. The cost varies depending on your location - but I pay USD$14 per week.

The Kindle version is a poor substitute to a real paper but beggars can't be choosers. Outside of the USA the Kindle version of newspapers don't include any photographs. The best thing is it is delivered seamlessly to my reader overnight.

Steve, thanks for your great blog and all of the hard work you do.

James Taylor said...

Maybe Sherman Frederick subscribed to 20,000 eEditions in order to keep the stock price up.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me why the Electronic Edition of daily newspapers is supposed to be worth money, but the same news on their websites is (usually) free?