Here's what R-J Publisher Sherman Frederick never told you: The combined newspapers enjoyed a rather robust circulation bump in the immediate aftermath of his bitter rival's triumph. The Sun is, of course, distributed inside the R-J in a very unusual joint operating agreement.
Today, the Audit Bureau of Circulations released the latest semi-annual circulation statistics for the nation's daily newspapers and, overall, the figures were awful as usual. The nation's dailies on average shed 8.7 percent of their weekday subscribers since last year at this time.
Our market, however, was different. The Review-Journal's Sunday circulation was actually UP 1.2 percent to 197,312 and up 2 percent for Saturdays, too. The weekday circulation did drop, but that was a loss of a mere 563 subscribers for a microscopic 0.3 percent fall. That's almost not worth mentioning. See for yourself:
These figures, however, compare October 2009-March 2010 to October 2008-March 2009. That's important, as I'll show you.
Taken on their own, the data doesn't reflect anything about the Sun's Pulitzer. But this was the first time the ABC folks gave me press access to their full sets of reports, so I blew a hole in my day examining several reports related to the R-J.
I took some things apart and look what I found:
Oct 2008 - March 2009: 194,919/175,439
April-June 2009: 204,570/178,857
July-Sept 2009: 202,903/172,871
Oct 2009- March 2010: 197,312/174,876
See it? The Sun's Pultizer was announced in mid-April 2009. In the three months that followed, the R-J/Sun's Sunday circulation popped back up over 200,000 and enjoyed a 5 percent boost. Daily circulation was up 1.5 percent, too. It stayed aloft for a while but the figures floated back to pre-Pulitzer levels by this reporting period.
Here's where it gets fun and a little confusing, but stick with me. These numbers are reported in six-month blocks and all the data you hear about are the new figures compared to the same periods from the year before.
When the data came out for April-October 2009, the R-J/Sun showed a 6.6 percent circulation rise over April-October 2008. Stephens Media circulation chief Steve Coffeen dismissed that -- weird in itself -- by saying that the newspaper got a bump because it was allowed to include the number of electronic editions sold. That hadn't been allowed in same period the year before.
What Coffeen did NOT do was compare April-September 2009 to the immediate six months prior. The e-editions were included in both of THOSE spans and circulation was, as you saw above, still up a lot.
Instead, while Coffeen strangely opted NOT to point out the good news, publisher Frederick actually told a conservative group that the R-J/Sun's circulation was up ever since he had blasted Sen. Harry Reid for saying he hoped the newspaper would go out of business.
Frederick, as is often the case, was dishonest. That particular Reid brouhaha broke out at the very end of August 2009. By then, the paper's circulation was settling back down to its pre-Pulitzer levels. They've lost about 3 percent of its circulation since then, but it LOOKS like it's up for this reporting period because the current numbers get compared to the six-month period immediately prior to the Pulitzer.
Bottom line: Frederick, who trumpeted circulation gains in his Sunday column in 2008 that actually didn't even exist, hates the reality that there's a market for really good but really expensive journalism. It is actually capable of piquing the curiosity of the public even in this modern age and he's the one sitting on the proof.
So watch out, folks. Frederick may tout the latest gains but the fact is, they were made because of the Sun. He just hasn't finished squandering that boost yet.
A few more interesting tidbits I gleaned from the data:
* The R-J/Sun has the 51st largest circulation in the nation including Puerto Rico on weekdays but on Sundays it falls to No. 60 owing to the facts that (a) the Wall Street Journal and USA Today don't publish on weekends and (b) there are 11 papers with larger circulations on Sundays but not on weekdays. They are located in San Antonio, Nashville, Des Moines, Tampa, Hartford, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh.
* The paper's penetration given its market remains low. Vegas' TV market size, in contrast to its newspaper circulation, is the nation's 42nd biggest. The daily newspaper in Little Rock, Ark., metro-area population: 685,000, is bigger than the one in Vegas, with a metropolitan area population of 1.6 million.
* The Los Angeles Times fell below 1 million subscribers on Sundays, falling 7.6 percent. I suspect that's the first time that's happened in a lot of years.
* The Reno Gazette-Journal, the only other newspaper in the state with audited circulation, had a rough year, losing 11.7 percent of its weekday circulation and 10.1 percent of on Sundays.
Finally, something continues to baffle me: The enormous number of "electronic editions" that are sold in the least likely of newspaper markets. The R-J, for instance, reported it had an average of 26,337 electronic subscribers on weekdays, making up 15 percent of the circulation. That figure was huge -- the New York Daily News had only 15,123, by contrast, or 2.9 percent -- but other papers you'd never expect had fairly large numbers as well.
The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., for example, has a total daily circulation of 43,895, of which 12,462 were electronic editions, 28.4 percent! Who says nobody's making money selling their content on the Web?