Newspapers’ Long, Slow Goodbye May Be Shorter, Faster

Dismal circulation report latest death knell for rattled industry.

Last Updated: October 26, 2009 @ 2:19 PM

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released its semiannual report on newspaper circulation today – the results, as you might imagine, weren’t pretty. Average daily circulation fell more than 10 percent. The Wall Street Journal was the only American newspaper in the top 25 to report a circulation increase between April and September. Of it course, the increase was small. Just how small? Zero-point-six-one percent.

Still, WSJ’s essentially flat circulation – an average of 2,024,269 daily copies — meant it overtook the USA Today as the nation’s number one newspaper. USA Today’s circ fell 17 percent to 1,900,116. The New York Times circulation (-7.28 percent) fell below 1 million copies for the first time in more than two decades.

To put it another way, "daily newspaper circulation has fallen to a pre-World War II low of an estimated 39.1 million," according to Alan "Newsosaur" Mutter’s analysis. "The first double-digit circulation decline in history means only 12.9 percent of the U.S. population buys a daily newspaper. … Newspaper circulation now is lower than the 41.1 million papers sold in 1940, the earliest date for which records are published by the Newspaper Association of America. Back in 1940, newspapers were purchased by 31.1 percent of the population."

Yeesh.

TheAwl.com has a scary chart detailing just how bad the circ situation has become for major American newspapers (“Some unsurprising trends: the Los Angeles Times is an absolute horrorshow”). It’s like watching Toonces drive.

I was talking to a couple of concerned publishing executives this weekend – they were magazine executives, mind you – who were theorizing just how long the New York Times will be printed on a daily basis.

“Five years?” one asked.

“No way. Three tops,” said the other. “Maybe the Sunday Times.”

At this rate, even that would be a miracle.