The long decline in newspaper circulation over the years continues to accelerate, with sales in the spring and summer falling almost 5 percent from the previous year, figures released on Monday show, deepening the financial strain on the industry.
The drop occurred nearly across the board during the six months that ended Sept. 30; weekday circulation for the largest metropolitan dailies fell anywhere from 1.9 percent for The Washington Post, to 13.6 percent for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, compared with the period a year earlier.
The figures, released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations based on reports filed by the individual papers, show that circulation at The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Star-Ledger of Newark, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Orange County Register and The Detroit News fell 10 percent or more.
The exceptions among the nation’s biggest newspapers were USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, two national papers and the two largest in circulation, which were virtually unchanged, at 2.3 million for USA Today and 2 million for The Journal on weekdays. Neither paper publishes on Sundays. Among more than 100 papers with weekday circulation above 100,000, none had more than a fractional increase.
Across the industry, the audit bureau said that among more than 500 newspapers that had reported, weekday circulation was down 4.6 percent, and Sunday circulation fell 4.8 percent.
Newspaper circulation has fallen about 2 percent annually for years but began to drop faster in the 2007 reports, and faster still in the reports issued last spring, which showed declines of 3.6 percent on weekdays and 4.6 percent on Sundays.
The trend of sharper declines on Sundays is troubling, given that the day accounts for the largest share of advertising and circulation revenue for most newspapers.
In recent years, the industry has played down the circulation declines, stressing that newspaper Web sites were experiencing rising traffic and advertising revenues, at least partially offsetting weak print ad revenues, and producing a net increase in readership. At least some of the drop in circulation has been intentional, as papers try to curb marketing and distribution costs and focus on the most profitable sales.
But Internet revenues have been flat this year and print ad revenue has declined sharply for two years, increasing the importance of revenue from sales of the printed paper.
Analysts have warned in recent years that by offering steadily less in print, newspapers were inviting readers to stop buying. Most papers have sharply reduced their physical size — fewer and smaller pages, with fewer articles — and the newsroom staffs that produce them.
“It just seems impossible to me that you’re cutting costs dramatically without having some impact on the editorial quality of your product,” said Peter Appert, a newspaper analyst at Goldman Sachs. “I can’t prove that this is driving circulation, but it’s certainly something that if I were a newspaper publisher would keep me up at night.”
The Los Angeles Times has experienced, in absolute terms, both the largest decline in newsroom employees, and the largest decline in circulation. On Monday, the paper, owned by the Tribune Company, informed its newsroom staff that 75 of them would lose their jobs, the second major cut this year. The newsroom had almost 1,300 people at its peak, and with the latest reduction will fall to about half as many.
The circulation report issued Monday showed The Los Angeles Times with weekday sales of 739,000, down 5.2 percent from a year earlier. That is the fourth-highest figure in the country, but far below its high of 1.1 million early this decade.
The New York Times’s weekday circulation, the third-highest in the country, fell 3.6 percent, to just over 1 million. Its Sunday circulation, the highest, dropped 4.1 percent, to more than 1.4 million.