Circulation continues to plummet at Vermont's daily newspapers, but not as badly as the record drops experienced last fall.
Six of Vermont's largest dailies reported numbers to the Audit Bureau of Circulations on Monday for the six-month period ending March 31. When compared against numbers from March 2009, Vermont's dailies fared somewhat better than the national averages for print circulation, which declined 8.7 percent for weekday papers and 6.5 percent for Sunday editions.
Circulation at the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press, Vermont's largest daily, fell 6.9 percent weekday (from 35,448 papers to 32,993) and 2.9 percent Sunday (from 43,513 to 42,216). Their peers also saw circulation drops, in some cases by double-digits.
- The family-owned Rutland Herald lost 12 percent weekday and 6.1 percent Sunday
- The Montpelier/Barre Times-Argus (same owners as the Herald) dropped 9.4 percent weekday and 7.7 percent Sunday
- The Brattleboro Reformer, owned by Media News Group, fell 5.6 percent weekday, 6.4 percent weekend
- The Bennington Banner lost just 1.9 percent weekday and 5.3 percent Saturday
The single biggest circulation drop belongs to the Caledonian-Record in St. Johnsbury, which dropped 13 percent for its Monday through Saturday editions.
Todd Smith, assistant publisher of the fourth-generation, family-owned paper, chalks that up largely to a price hike in July that raised the cover price from 50 cents to 75 cents, and to being temporarily without a circulation director.
Smith tells Seven Days that neither the Record staff nor its advertisers are sweating the big drop. Profits are up at the paper, Smith says, and the higher cover price has more than made up for the drop in subscribers. But just the same, Smith gathered department heads yesterday for a circulation committee meeting.
"It was kind of a shocking figure when I saw it," Smith says. "We're wrestling with the same issues a lot of newspaper people are wrestling with and I think it's what I do: My iPhone commands as much of my attention as does my computer now. Certainly as much as the print products. I don't read anywhere near the number of magazines I used to."
One thing that separates the Record is that all but about 10 percent of the paper's online content is behind a pay wall. Smith says that right now, only a selection of the top stories, sports stories, letters opinion and community events (births, deaths, marriages, etc...) are free. Starting June, all but the day's top story and obituaries will go behind a pay wall.
Smith says the paper has avoided layoffs that have crippled so many other newspapers by cutting positions in other departments. He doesn't foresee this latest circulation drop necessitating any job cuts.
"That's the last thing in the world I could cut, our newsroom," Smith says.