The paradox continues: U.S. newspaper readership continues to grow as the business model collapses. The Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for March are in and daily circulation for the reporting newspapers rose .68% while Sunday circulation jumped 5%. More interesting is that the ABC reported that digital circulation now accounts for 14.2% of newspapers’ total circulation mix, up from 8.66% a year ago. That’s a pretty phenomenal increase on a large number.
Before breathing a sigh of relief, though, note that about 2/3 of the ABC report is devoted to disclaiming comparisons of this year’s data to previous numbers. That’s because the bureau adopted a bunch of new rules that give papers more flexibility than they previously had in reporting circulation, including a redefinition of paid circulation to “paid/verified,” which now includes a lot of junk subscriptions like those given away to schools or distributed free in hotels. Basically, publishers now have more flexibility to report low-dollar circulation on their audit statements.
Still, the resilience of newspaper brands continues to impress, even though a sustainable business plan is elusive.
More Paywall Converts
Add the Globe and Mail to the growing list of paywall converts. The Canadian daily will begin to charge for access to articles on its website, although it hasn’t announced any more details. In fact, it announced so few details that 80% of the Reuters story is basically background.
U.S. News had an interesting piece last week (full disclosure: we were quoted in it) that likens the emerging paywall model to cable television. Danielle Kurtzleben cites several metro dailies that are having success with paywalls by going deep into local coverage or introducing sub-editions that target special interests. She quoted Tom Rosenstiel, founder and director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, comparing the model to HBO’s popular “Game of Thrones.”
“You’ve got a small group of people who really love that show and are willing to subscribe to HBO just for that show,” he says. Whether or not an HBO subscriber watches anything else on the network, he or she is still willing to pay the monthly fee to get that one program. The metro dailies that are having the most success with paywalls are the ones delivering new and focused content. Simply putting a registration screen in front of your existing product isn’t enough.
Help Bring ‘Fit to Print’ to the Finish Line
We’ve reported occasionally on the progress of an independent documentary called Fit To Print which examines the ongoing crisis within the U.S. newspaper industry and its impact on investigative reporting. We met the producers of this bootstrapped project in the early days and admire what they’re doing. The film is now in post-production, which means all of the interviewing and leg work has been done, but the producers are seeking to raise $10,000 to cover the costs need to bring the film to market.
We think the industry needs to hear the story that Adam Chadwick and Nancy Wolfe are trying to tell. They document examples of how the loss of journalism watchdogs has let crime and corruption run rampant in some cities and they make the case for why investigative journalism is an essential public service. Go here and donate money. Whatever you can. The producers are making some nice branded merchandise available for different donation amounts.