By paulgillin | May 13, 2012 - 11:59 am - Posted in Fake News

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.

Donate on




This entry was posted on Sunday, May 13th, 2012 at 11:59 am and is filed under Fake News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. May 13, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

    […] Audience Expands As Business Contracts ( […]

  2. May 13, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

    “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.”

    On the contrary, you have a bunch of people that love the show and are downloading it for free and not watching anything else on HBO. Just as they are getting the news they want online, for free, not through some paywall. Hello …. when are these guys going to wake up and smell the coffee?

    Posted by Rick
  3. May 14, 2012 @ 12:50 am

    ” Just as they are getting the news they want online, for free, not through some paywall. “. Bro… We’re not all 18 years old and living in the dorms. I am 33 and my girlfriend is 30. We both work in medicine and subscribe seperately to NYT online, basically cause we don’t care to clear our cookies and use 8 different browsers. It makes me feel cheap, and I have the money. 500k people seem to agree and its not slowing down. I dont care about the money- the NYT is basically a national treasure. I will subscribe to my metro online if they ever put up paywall too, even if it aint that great. I understand if other people don’t have the money. I don’t judge. But I DO have the money and the existence of hundreds of thousands of people like me refutes your argument.

    Posted by Stephen
  4. May 14, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    Agree with Stephen. You can get around a lot of copy protection schemes if you’re willing to invest the time and effort – and if you’re digitally savvy enough – but most people can’t be bothered and would rather just pay the $10. The entire contents of the Wall Street Journal are available for free on Google News, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of people from paying the annual online subscription fee.

    Posted by paulgillin
  5. May 14, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

    I see your point Stephen. I agree, lots of people dont have time. Especially you and your girlfriend. Thank you for choosing a career in medicine. My point was alot of people still get the news free online, which hurts advertising obviously. Paywall is not the way to go unfortunately. Ten or fifteen years to late for that, in my opinion only. Online has stalled.
    I myself, am not 18, do not live in a dorm, I am 57. I have worked in the Newspaper industry for 42 years. Currently with a major daily newspaper for the last 31 years.That makes me a little jaded. If the NYT is basically a national treasure, dont they deliver? Please pick up a paper and support hundreds of people that make a treasure to hold in your hand.
    Yes, I do know a few pirates…. and no they are not 18 either 🙂

    Posted by Rick
  6. May 15, 2012 @ 2:30 am

    I get the weekend deal from the NYT to get paywall access. When I am older and have more time, I will get a 7 day print subscription, provided such a thing still exists. The NYT is a beast. I get snatch articles here and there, but just don’t have time to methodically roll through the weekday print edition every day- picked up a copy today though. I tried it with the FT this last year and they kept piling up and I got too ashamed to handle it. I have no problem with “freeloaders”- I tend to think newspapers are good for the soul and the community. One thing that angers me to no end is people forwarding me shallow, stupid stories from commentary websites like Gawker (which is actually sometimes good, to be fair) or people saying that papers like the NYT are “the man”, ignoring that only newspapers report real news, other than tech stuff. I am no journalist, but this has kinda become my cause in the last couple of years. I hardly visit espn now and spend my time on Romenesko instead. I sincerely think paywalls are a great answer- inventory needs to be reduced. I think paywalls can “trap” people on websites and will eventually radically change the culture of the internet, lowering its through-put. Maybe I am naive, but I think only a minority of people ever read newspapers in the somewhat recent past, and so it shall be again in the future. Advertisers will come back to these people who care and participate disproportionally in their communities.. I have even thrown some 401k money into a few newspaper stocks. Call me a whackjob, but i love journalism, and this is a great hobby to chase from the hospital. I all honesty, I got no evidence whatsoever, but I just know that newspapers will survive. No return to the mega glory days,but they will be strong once again.

    Posted by Stephen
  7. May 15, 2012 @ 7:16 am

    The price of online content is in steady decline, and the phenomenon isn’t limited to news. International Data Corp. forecasts a five-fold increase in annual apps downloads to 137 billion by 2016. Only about 18% of those apps will be paid for, and average prices will fall from $1.59 today to 82 cents. The same thing is happening in PC software, where prices for all but the biggest brand-name products have plummeted. Electronic distribution drives marginal costs to zero very quickly and people’s expectations are shaped by that.

    New organizations will survive, if not necessarily thrive. No one is thriving in digital content distribution right now, with the possible exception of Bloomberg and highly specialized financial service providers. The challenge is to find ways to survive within the new economic realities. Most newspaper publishers have given up wringing their hands about losing the lives they used to have and are now concentrated on this more important task.

    Posted by paulgillin