In the past few years sales of many big American newspapers have declined as much as ten per cent. But many publishers, according to a new survey,, are happy about the decline.
Why? Because of increasing delivery costs, pressure from advertisers, many papers have decided certain readers are not worth the expense involved – particularly the cost of keeping them.
One big problem is that advertisers have become more cost conscious – and believe they can more easily narrow down the readers they are after on the Internet. One big casualty has been pre-printed ad inserts which have been a big feature of American papers, especially Sunday papers, for years.
Then there is the cost of new readers. According to the Newspaper Association of America the average cost of persuading a reader to become a regular subscriber is today around $68 (about £35) more than twice as much as it was in 2002.
And worse, most of the new readers recruited by cheap subscription offers (a mainstay of circulation promotion in the US) drop their subscriptions when their discount expires. And despite dropping ad income most US newspapers still make more money from ads than from sales.
There are, the New York Time points out, still some exceptions to the general trend. The two big New York tabloids, the Daily News and New York Post, are still scrapping over every reader.
But in cities like Los Angeles, there is no longer a war. The circulation of the Los Angeles Times, for example, has declined more than probably any other paper in the country. It is now down to 800,000 - from a high back in 2000 of over 1.1 million
Some papers such as the Dallas Morning News no longer sell more than 100 miles from the city. The publishers don't regret the decision. Anyone who is really interested can get all the news from the paper these days online, said a spokesman.
The trend is becoming very noticeable for another reason. News vendors are losing interest in selling newspapers.
Dominic Rushe, a New York columnist for the Sunday Times this week reported, with some dismay, that when he went his local newsstand looking for the New York Times and The New York Post, he had found the shelf empty.
When he asked where the newspapers were, the dealer told him he was no longer interested in selling newspapers. It was too much of a bother, the newsagent confessed, and no longer worth it.
He claimed he only made two cents a copy on every New York Post (its cover price is 25 cents), five cents on each Daily News and nine cents on every NewYork Times, whose cover price is $1.25. Will the day come, asked Rushe, when newsagents will no longer need to sell news?