U.S. daily newspaper circulation fell 5 percent in the last six months, according to audit figures just released — and that's good compared to the freefall dailies have experienced over the last few years.
So, how are Vermont's dailies faring? Better than the national average in most cases, and notably worse in a couple others.
According to semiannual figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press, the state's largest daily, actually boosted its Sunday circulation by 1.1 percent — from 42,180 copies to 42,679. For the same period last year, the Freeps sustained a 9.7 percent plunge in Sunday circ.
The paper's Monday-Saturday circulation was down by 3.1 percent over the same period last year. As of September 30, average weekday circulation is 32,450 and average Sunday circ is 42,679.
The audit bureau tracks circulation figures over six-month periods — from October through March and April through September. Newspapers use those figures to determine their advertising rates.
In recent months, the Freeps has been offering some cut-rate deals on home delivery. One Seven Days staffer signed up for the incredible deal of Thursday and Sunday editions, home delivery for a year, for $2. Not $2 a month — a one-time payment of $2 for the whole year.
"There have been some unusual deals to sign up new subscribers," observes David Mindich, chair of the journalism department at St. Michael's College and a former assignment editor for CNN. "It will be interesting to see if these people will resubscribe."
Elsewhere, the family-owned Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald newspapers saw the biggest circulation drops. The Herald lost 8.6 percent weekday, 5.3 percent Sunday. The Times Argus dropped 5.2 percent weekday, and 6.3 percent Sunday. Both newspapers put their online editions behind a paywall earlier this month. Newspapers don't report online readership to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
"I wish them well, but I'm not optimistic that it will be successful," Mindich says of the papers' paywall plan. "Some financial papers, like the Wall Street Journal, have had some success with this. But even the New York Times, whose readership is very loyal, wasn't able to charge a few years ago."
The saving grace for the Times Argus and Herald, Mindich says, might be that both papers have a near monopoly on central Vermont news. "Anytime you have a monopoly on news, you can start charging for it," says Mindich.
The MediaNews Group-owned Brattleboro Reformer and Bennington Banner reported mixed news on the circulation front. The Reformer's weekend edition dropped 0.5 percent, but its Monday-Friday paper went up by a fraction, 0.1 percent. The Banner lost 1.9 percent on its Saturday edition and 4.2 percent on its weekday edition.
The Caledonian-Record again sustained a big hit, its circulation sinking 6.9 percent in the last six months.
(Disclosure: Seven Days is a free newspaper and is audited yearly by Verified Audit. Seven Days increased its weekly circulation from 34,000 to 35,000 copies this past week due to greater demand at the paper's drop sites, including more racks at Burlington International Airport.)