The bleeding of readers from major daily newspapers has been staunched, and many papers are adding readers, but the Washington Post’s downward slide continues unabated.
The findings of the latest circulation figures released Tuesday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that overall newspapers lost 0.2 percent in circulation for the six months ending on September 30, compared with the same period in 2011. The past decade has seen readers fleeing newspapers in double-digit percentages, so slowing that decline to near zero is cause for some relief.
But the pain at the Washington Post continues.
The Post’s daily circulation dropped below 500,000 for the first time in decades. Last September the number was 507,465. The average circulation for print and digital at the end of September 2012 came in at 462,228, according to the ABC.
The numbers were worse on Sunday. For the six months ending in September 2011 the Post clocked 846,019 readers, but the number dropped to 674,751 in the current accounting. That amounts to a drop of 20 percent.
By comparison, the New York Times reported an increase of 40 percent in daily circulation, which reached 1,613,865 million readers. The Sunday Times topped 2 million in circulation for an increase of 28 percent.
The numbers are misleading and revealing at the same time. The Post has decided to keep its digital news free without asking readers to pay or erecting a pay wall. The New York Times has been offering digital subscription packages that readers have been snapping up, resulting in increasing circulation and revenues.
Among the top ten newspapers, only USA Today (-3.9 percent) and the New York Daily News (-11.5 percent) joined the Post in losing circulation. The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and Denver Post all recorded increases.
The Post’s continued loss of circulation and revenues calls into question Post Company chairman Don Graham’s firm opposition to making readers pay for digital copy.
“Circumstance has made it so we’re the one great news company that’s free at this point,” Graham told Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in July.
Circumstances change. If the Post keeps losing readers and revenue, Graham might have to reconsider.