Top US newspapers post sharp circulation declines

Make a note on your calendar of the year 2043. That’s the date by which some forecasters predict most newspapers, as known today, will have virtually vanished. And its not that far away.

Adding to the gloom is news of another big drop in American newspaper circulation figures, which some call sobering, while others have dubbed it as a “death watch”.

Even some of the biggest papers are feeling the pain. The circulation of the Sunday edition of the New York Times, for example, is down 150,000 – a drop of almost 10 per cent in six months. Daily circulation fell too, by almost four per cent to 1,077,000.

The Washington Post circulation fell 3.5 per cent to 673,000 on weekdays, and was down more than four per cent on Sundays to 890,000.

The New York Post lost three per cent daily, and more than eight per cent on Sundays.

There was hardly a paper in the US that didn’t lose sales. The only exception was the Wall Street Journal, but only by a fraction of a percentage point, up 0.3 per cent to 2,068.000. That was mostly before Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp took over.

Some papers in the US are already abandoning the old format. The latest is The Capitol Times in Madison, Wisconsin, which has been published continuously since the First World War.

The paper has announced that, in future, it will only be available on the web. Its circulation has fallen from more than 40,000 to less than 16,000.

Publisher Clayton Frink said: “As our audience has shrunk we no longer feel relevant.”

Other papers, to save money, are looking at new ways of getting to their readers. The Indiana Times Herald, for example, is giving up its delivery boys. In future, the paper will be delivered to customers by mail – as many weeklies are today.

Other titles are cutting their pages and page size – among them the New York Post, which has trimmed an inch or so off its pages.

If newspapers are suffering, so are the television news programmes. The big three networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – lost more than 1.2m viewers last year.

Here the reason is that most young viewers – the audience at which the networks aim – are too busy at their computers in the evening to switch on a TV set. The average age of evening news watchers is now said to be 60. The same applies to morning news programmes.

As a result, there has been a lay-off of more than 10 per cent in the past year in TV news staff and newscasters – the biggest decline since 1999. Another result is the noticeable decline in foreign news coverage.

Some pessimists are suggesting that, like newspapers, television news programmes will someday soon be things of the past.

The alternative would be round-the clock news access – akin to the websites that are putting many news organisations out of business or giving them a hard time.

If there is any bright side to the sales figures, it’s only that Felix Dennis’s US edition of The Week is going up. It is selling a robust 500,000 and is said to be giving Time and Newsweek a hard time.

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