Digital subscribers are accounting for an ever-more-generous slice of American newspapers’ circulation pumpkin this Halloween, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)’s latest biannual study of 613 daily newspapers and 528 Sunday titles.
Overall, daily circulation has remained flat in the six months ending September 30, dropping by a mere 0.2 percent compared to the same period last year. But behind this placid mask, digital circulation— encompassing paid and restricted-access websites, mobile apps, PDF replicas and e-reader editions— rose as a proportion of total circulation by over 5 percent. It now accounts for an average of 15.3 percent of newspapers’ total circulation, up from 9.8 percent a year ago.
Leading the digital pack is The New York Times, with a circulation of over 896,000 across its digital platforms (with the data measurement caveat that one user accessing NYT content from multiple digital platforms may be counted more than once). Over half of subscriptions to The Times are now for digital editions.
The New York Times Media Group reported in its quarterly earnings results last week that it had seen an 11 percent increase in paid digital subscriptions from the end of the second quarter; the silver lining in an overall sombre report. This helps to explain why the newspaper’s Monday to Friday circulation has jumped by 40 percent between March and September, even while quarterly results showed that weekday print circulation had dropped by 6.9 percent in the same period.
Close behind The Times in digital circulation is the Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corporation subsidiary Dow Jones & Company, whose paywall-restricted digital content has a circulation of nearly 795,000. Following The Times and the Journal by a several-hundred-thousand gap are the News Corporation-owned New York Post (178,000), and Digital First Media’s Denver Post (176,000). In fifth place is Tribune Company’s Los Angeles Times (152,000), which implemented a paywall in March.
When print and digital are combined, the Journal rises to the top of the podium as the country’s most widely circulated daily newspaper, with an overall average circulation of nearly 2.3 million— up 9.4 percent since March. The runner-up is the recently redesigned USA Today, with almost an overall circulation of 1.7 million—down 3.9 percent. The Times is in third, with a total circulation of 1.6 million.
Meanwhile, across the pond, digital subscriptions at the paywall-protected Financial Times are “growing strongly,” according to parent company Pearson, which earlier this week reported a 17 percent increase on last year’s figures. The salmon-coloured daily’s digital subscriptions outpaced its print circulation in July of this year, and have now reached 313,000. However, like its American counterparts, the FT is facing rough financial times: its CEO John Ridding sent an email to staff today headed “Cost control/profit protection” that outlines austerity measures, from a recruitment freeze to a ban on non-vital travel, the Guardian reported today.
So paid digital circulation may account for a growing proportion of circulation’s neutral jack-o-lantern, but it is not enough to compensate for losses elsewhere. Fortunately, for the Americans at least, it will all be pie by Thanksgiving.